Saw Copyright Criminals on Netflix Monday night while cooking up a mushroom risotto. Isn’t that the best time to watch a documentary, while you are waiting for something to boil or stirring occaisionally? Anyway, it’s a great great hip hop history, looking at the ways that copyright and remix culture intersect. You get interviews with all sorts of great turntabilists and producers like Public Enemy, De La Soul, and EL-P, but then you also get the side of guys who made the beats in the beginning like George Clinton and Clyde “Funky Drummer” Stubbelfield.
It turns out that if you cover a song, you are in the clear. Just don’t change any lyrics, you’re legally ok. However, if you lift a guitar riff, distort it and change the tempo or stutter it, then you’re a copyright criminal and you can’t make any cash off your music. There is a really good bit where the head of Tommy Boy and De La Soul are interviewed, discussing how the legal implications of sampling definitely changed the music they were making. Samples became more distorted to hide their origins, some songs are abandoned just because you can’t hope to clear the rights to a popular track. It’s strange to think of all the ghost songs floating out there that were smothered in their cradles before they could be heard or developed.
One last bit of the movie I really loved were the visual breakdowns of remix and mashup songs. Nothing makes it clearer how much actual artistry is happening than seeing the interleaving, distortions and tweaks in all the clips visually.