COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS Screenings Demystify Hip-Hop Sampling

Posted on October 30, 2009

From our first event at the Saratoga Springs Public Library in Saratoga Springs, New York on October 3 to our last two events on October 29 in Charleston, South Carolina and Indiana, Pennsylvania we've thrilled audiences with live DJs, hip-hop dancers and fascinating panelists from musicians to lawyers. 

Co-producer of COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS Kembrew McLeod told us "I feel honored to be part of the Community Cinema program which has allowed the film to be seen far and wide by a diverse range of audiences. Plus, it’s free. Who doesn’t like free?" For more than 30 years, as hip-hop evolved from the urban streets of New York to its current status as a multibillion-dollar industry, hip-hop performers and producers have been reusing portions of previously recorded music in new, otherwise original compositions. But when lawyers and record companies got involved, what was once referred to as a “borrowed melody” became a “copyright infringement.” 

Through interviews with many of hip-hop music’s founding figures—like Public Enemy, De La Soul and Digital Underground—along with emerging artists such as audiovisual remixers Eclectic Method, COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS by Benjamin Franzen and Kembrew McLeod illuminates both sides of the debate, from traditional musicians who view sampling as pillaging to those who argue that the practice of borrowing is by no means new nor is it unique to hip-hop or even music: Think of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans.

  rjd2 talks to audience members after screening on Twitpic

With OVER 50 free screening events from coast to coast audiences were able to sample the flavor of hip-hip and electronic music first-hand from some of the subjects featured in the film. The Philadelphia event featured worldwide DJ sensation based in Philly, RJD2 (RJ Krohn - pictured to the right, on the left). The photo is a TwitPic uploaded live from the event. Our event in Oakland welcomed DJ legend Jeff Chang. Local hip-hop radio DJs hosted events in St. Louis and Seattle. In Seattle, KUBE 93 FM DJ Hyphen who co-hosts “Sunday Night Sound Session” introduced the film. “Sunday Night Sound Session” airs every Sunday night at 10:45 PM. “J. Moore and I offer listeners the newest, dopest hip-hop from all around the country, including local music from our own backyard,” boasts DJ Hyphen. Tune in around the Puget Sound Region or online worldwide. DJ Hypen introduced COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS and left the audience with some things to think about while watching the film. 

Read on for more video clips, photos, and community connections.

Our guest speaker at the Community Cinema event in Evanston, Illinois, was Northwestern University law professor Peter DiCola, who co-authored the forthcoming book Creative License: The Culture and Law of Digital Sampling with filmmaker Kembrew McLeod. We could not have asked for a better guest speaker when it comes to questions of copyright. DiCola was able to give in-depth answers that helped the audience understand legal issues in a clear and engaging manner. In St. Louis, DJ Alejan talks about how the film exposes the many layers and areas of sampling that have never previously been explored on film.

Throughout the month, Community Cinema partnered with Future of Music Coalition to present COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS. Future of Music Coalition encouraged discussions about sampling and more as part of their 8th Policy Summit in Washington DC in early October. Regional Outreach Coordinator Michon Boston explains, "Fair use is ... described for documentary makers, as follows:

Fair Use is the right, in some circumstances, to quote copyrighted material without asking permission or paying for it. It is a crucial feature of copyright law. In fact, it is what keeps copyright from being censorship. You can invoke fair use when the value to the public of what you are saying outweighs the cost to the private owner of the copyright.

- Source: “Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use” 

Boston continues during her chat with Kembrew McLeod, "When it came to fair use, he appeared cautious about their selection process for COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS." McLeod said, “We didn’t want to ruin it for people following us through the door.”

For the hundreds of people who attended our 60 free screening events for COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS nationwide, McLeod and Frazen busted the door open for musicians, artists, and others to explore the myriad aspects and themes of sampling, borrowing, mashing-up, and paying tribute. Holla! COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS airs nationally on the Emmy Award winning PBS series Independent Lens on Tuesday, January 19 at 10:00 PM (check local listings). 

Please join us in November for free preview screenings of the award winning paperfolding documentary BETWEEN THE FOLDS. Blurring the mysterious lines between art, science, sculpture and math, the film is an exhilarating adventure into origami, or paper folding, featuring works of art whose emotional expressiveness and engineering complexity defy logic.


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