Rhea Myers

Sampling Artists and NC

I’ve just read another apologia from a sampling artist who is releasing their work under a NonCommercial Creative Commons license.

On the face of it this is simple hypocracy. Someone denying others the freedom they themselves are exercising, that of commercial use of appropriated material. Possibly the worst example of this are JibJab.

But if we are arguing that sample-based works or mashups are first-order cultural works, that is works that are as valid as an “original” piece (e.g. a Jeffrey Archer novel or a Britney Speares single), then this is not so clear-cut. Because regardless of the origin of its materials, there is a work here that has as much right to the protection of copy and moral rights as any other. To argue otherwise is to argue against the validity of remix culture.

Asserting copyright on transformative fair use works (in the US, we don’t get TFU in the UK :-( ) is an important claim of authorial and artistic validity for remix culture. If exercising TFU is virtuous, then the artist is virtuous by virtue of their having exercised TFU. If every work is derivative anyway then there should be no special penalty or responsibility attached to works that recognise this.

The accruing of rights by sampling artists is therefore a hard-won and important thing. Those artists should be able to handle those rights however they wish.
All that said, you cannot CC license something that you do not hold the rights to. CC licensing is therefore an assertion of rights in itself. And it is simple self-interest for sampling artists to work towards more easily sampled work.

Talk of protecting economic ‘rights’ or reputation or sticking it to the man is suspect coming from people (the majors would regard as) ripping off recording artists to debase their work with an eye to getting the results into record stores or onto iTMS.

We should not single out sampling artists when considering the ethics of NC. We should not give them any special privilege when considering the ethics of NC. This being the case, sampling artists choosing NC is no worse than anyone else choosing NC, but it certainly isn’t any better.

So sampling artists choosing NC still sucks.