This article originally appeared on Techdirt.
Greg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) recently participated in a live chat as part of a Download Decade series run by the Globe and Mail. Gillis makes music entirely from samples, combining existing songs in creative ways to make something new. His last album, which was offered as a pay-what-you-want download, used over 300 samples. Even though he’s been held up in Congress as an example of why traditional copyright laws might no longer make sense, it seems like a lawsuit is inevitable because Gillis doesn’t license any of the samples he uses. Yet, there has been no legal action to date (knock on wood!). Gillis argues that his sampling is fair use because it’s transformative, but that hasn’t been tested in court.
In the chat, he responded to a question I raised about why he uses a noncommercial license for his music (as he makes commercial use of others’ works), arguing that transformative fair use would still allow commercial use of his music and noting that his label suggested the noncommercial license as a “safe move.” Gillis was also asked whether he’s surprised that he still hasn’t faced a lawsuit, even though his profile has been much higher in the past few years.
Kind of. I believe in what I’m doing. I do not think it should be illegal. But at the same time, if you look at the history of sample-based music, it is somewhat surprising. Biz Markie, 2 Live Crew, Danger Mouse, Negativland, etc. Those are the people who laid the groundwork. They all had issues.
He notes that he was under the radar with his first couple albums, but since 2006, it’s been hard for him to ignore publications like the Rolling Stone and the New York Times talking about how he’s going to get sued. Yet, no lawsuits. He says times are changing.
The way the general public views intellectual property in 2009 is much different than in 1999. Look around the internet. So much content comes from pre-existing media. We’re used to it now. Christian Bale goes crazy on the set of T4. That turns into a techno song, which then turns into a cartoon on YouTube, which will then turn into a T-shirt. Everyone is constantly exchanging ideas and building upon previously existing material. So the idea of a remix being a real artform is being validated in our culture every day.
Certainly, artists like Girl Talk, as well as others ranging from DJ Kutiman to the creator of the “rap chop” video, have been debunking the myths about “original” content, showing people that remixing can be creative and original and that it contributes to culture. Still, there are plenty of people who believe otherwise. Hopefully, Gillis continues to avoid legal troubles, though I don’t think things have changed so much that this isn’t still a huge risk. But, insofar as the remix is increasingly validated as an art form, perhaps a lawsuit would end up highlighting the limits that copyright law places on artistic expression nowadays.
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