Legalities of Hip-Hop Front and Center in D.C.

Posted on November 29, 2010


Michon Boston is Community Cinema’s regional outreach coordinator in Washington, D.C. She helped organize a recent panel about legal issues raised in the documentary Copyright Criminals and filed this report. Earlier this year, Community Cinema D.C. partnered with Words Beats & Life Inc. for its presentation of Copyright Criminals. WBL Inc. returned to the documentary last week for a discussion on fair use as part of their teach-in initiative, “Remixing the Art of Social Change:  A Hip-Hop Approach.” The six-day event brought Hip Hop legends to D.C. including DJ Kool Herc, Kurtis Blow, and Common.  The final day at the Washington Convention Center was ground zero for a series of special focus panels and workshops.

David Maduli, who authored the ITVS Classroom curriculum for Copyright Criminals; DJ RBI; Hec Dolo; and Professor Peter Jaszi from American University’s Washington College of Law (who provided legal consultation to the filmmakers on fair use) all participated on a panel that addressed copyright issues in hip-hop music.  Speaking from their experiences, the panel gave a chronology on how the art of hip-hop music has been affected positively and negatively by intellectual property laws.

David Mulduli pointed out how the Classroom curriculum for Copyright Criminals looks at the intellectual property issue from various art mediums, including art and fashion.  Garage Band is a tool he uses in the classroom where students “flip” an audio sample.  Mulduli said his students have exhausted the existing audio files that come with the software.  This is the point where the lessons from Copyright Criminals become teaching movements. “Every kind of art now builds on something that came before,” said Peter Jaszi, faculty director of Washington College of Law’s Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Clinic in Washington, DC.  “If copyright owners claim too much, get greedy, the creative process is chilled.”  Jaszi believes there is power in numbers when artists come together.  They can collectively set the bar on how fair use will be used. Copyright Criminals is being well received and considered an important resource in the hip-hop music-making community.  D.J. Christie Z-Pabon, of Tools of War, said, “The documentary is so amazing, you would feel honored to be in it.” 

Check out ITVS’s classroom guide for Copyright Criminals.   

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