Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Legal Justification for House Music and other remixes/re-makes

Electronic music largely consists of original content. However, some electronic music, especially House Music, consists of remixes of older material -- like taking a Led Zeppelin sample and working some nifty bass, drum and effects around it at 122 beats per minute to make a slamming dance number that activates the "hey, I know this song!" centers of the brains of dancefloor denizens.

Many such releases, however, are called White Labels, because their producers don't print any release information on the record's physical paper label, for fear of prosecution by the RIAA (the legal arm of the recording industry). These records are simply printed up, distributed to record stores on the down-low, and sold to DJs who are allowed to listen to the records in the store to see if they fit the vibe that they're looking to purchase and play. While white labels are cool, and are a staple of the underground music scene, they also implicitly represent a reaction to stifling legal practices that may themselves be on shaky legal ground.

I'd like to propose that the entire legal justification for suing music producers who sample copyrighted material should be in question.

According to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Fogerty v. Fantasy, quoted by Judge West:

We reiterated this theme in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340, 349-350 (1991), where we said:

"The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but `[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.' To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work." .......
Because copyright law ultimately serves the purpose of enriching the general public through access to creative works, it is peculiarly important that the boundaries of copyright law be demarcated as clearly as possible. To that end, defendants who seek to advance a variety of meritorious copyright defenses should be encouraged to litigate them to the same extent that plaintiffs are encouraged to litigate meritorious claims of infringement. In the case before us, the successful defense of "The Old Man Down the Road" increased public exposure to a musical work that could, as a result, lead to further creative pieces. Thus a successful defense of a copyright infringement action may further the policies of the Copyright Act every bit as much as a successful prosecution of an infringement claim by the holder of a copyright.

This decision would appear to indicate that, by "promoting the Progress of Science and Useful Arts," house music remixes of other types of music should be perfectly legal, and indeed encouraged, for they expose new audiences to older art forms, as well as build on the progress made in those earlier art forms in new and different ways, expressing a part of the original concept in new and different ways that may elicit new and difference responses by the public to a musical work, and in turn lead to further creative pieces.

Food for thought, and hopefully inspiration to house (and other electronic) music producers everywhere who seek to re-interpret music originally written and recorded by others in new and different ways!

1 comment:

Ray Beckerman said...

You are absolutely right on with your legal analysis. And 4 greedy record companies and 6 greedy motion picture companies are doing everything in their power to tear those pages out of the law books.

Nice article.