Horror Stories of Sampling:
the really crappy things about American Copyright law is that when you
lose or forfeit certain rights to your work, you have no control of what
can be done with it. This brings up the subject of moral rights.
What are moral rights? Moral rights, essentially, are the artists rights
regarding how a work is displayed. For example, Twisted Sister objected
to the Atlanta Braves organization playing their song "I Wanna Rock" when
pitcher John Rocker makes his way into a game because he's racist scum.
They were trying to assert some moral right. The same goes for film directors
objecting to how their films are edited for commercial television. And
for musicians, or the indie musicians with consciences, we usually object
to commercialization of our work. I mean, it really sucks to hear Air
or Stereolab in a commercial. (It hurts more realizing that I've moved
into a demographic to whom minivans are marketed.) Nonetheless, in America,
artists don't have moral rights. If you sell a painting (and all the rights
along with it), the owner can essentially burn it. I remember seeing the
video for The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" a few years ago. The video
featured skully singer, Richard Ashcroft, walking down the street, defiantly,
brashly bumping into everyone, knocking passes-by around like a battering
ram. A moment later, I heard the same song in a Nike sneaker commercial.
Verve and The Rolling Stones : Truly Bittersweet
Coca-Cola, and Fatboy Slim
Letter U and the Numeral 2
Verve and The Rolling Stones : Truly Bittersweet
The now defunct British outfit The Verve sampled an orchestration
on their song "Bittersweet Symphony" from The Rolling Stone's "The
Last Time". Before the release of the album, The Verve negotiated
a licensing agreement with The Rolling Stones to use the sample --
at least the composition rights to the sample. In 1997, The Verve's
album "Urban Hymns" peaked at number 23 on the Billboard Charts. What
ensued was a bitter (and not sweet) legal battle resulting in The
Verve turning over 100% of the royalties to the Rolling Stones. The
Rolling Stones argued that The Verve had violated the previous licensing
agreement by using too much of the sample in their song. The Verve
argued that The Rolling Stones got greedy when the song became successful.
Herein lies the issue of moral rights of a samplist.
"The last thing
I ever wanted was for my music to be used in a commercial. I'm still
sick about it", The Verve's lead singer Richard Ashcroft said in a
recent interview. So, that's exactly what Rolling Stones manager Allen
Klein did. Capitalizing off the success of the song, Klein licensed
The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" to Nike, who proceeded to run a
multi-million dollar television campaign using The Verve's song over
shots of its sneakers. Klein also used the song to hawk Vauxhall automobiles.
Additionally, though the song was authored by The Rolling Stones,
the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra performed the sampled recording and
also filed suit upon the success of the song. (Herein lies a fine
caveat to license both the recording and composition rights from whomever
maintains them.) To add even more insult to injury, when "Bittersweet
Symphony" was nominated for a Grammy, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
were named the nominees and not The Verve. What could be more "Bittersweet"
than your song reaching the top of the charts and not being able to
enjoy a cent of its success?
"It could've been
worse," Ashcroft continued. "If we hadn't fought, 'Symphony' could've
ended up on a cheeseburger ad and never have been taken seriously
Coca-Cola, and Fatboy Slim :
Now, that you have cheeseburgers on the brain, why not wash it down
with some Coke. One of the most notorious examples of sampling irony
is the Negativland/Coca-Cola connection. The California-based band
Negativland, copyright infringers of the highest reverence, "illegally"
sampled a 1966 religious record and calls their version of the song
"Michael Jackson". Samplist Fatboy Slim decides to sample Negativland's
song, licenses the Negativland version of the religious sample from
SST records, and also calls the song "Michael Jackson." After Fatboy's
ensuing popularity, creative advertising executives decide to license
Fatboy Slim's song for a Coca-Cola television commercial. Result:
Coca-Cola unwittingly engages in copyright infringement. Negativland,
whose calling is to debase advertising on all levels, find their music
selling soft drinks. Fatboy Slim deposits a huge check in his bank
"The track 'Michael Jackson' from this Fatboy Slim CD ['Better Living
Through Chemistry' (Astralwerks) 1998] samples from the Negativland
track 'Michael Jackson' from our 1987 release 'Escape From Noise'
on SST Records.
Slim went to SST Records to get permission to use this sample. SST
charged him $1000, which they are keeping all for themselves, of course.
Besides the fact that Fatboy could have kept his $1000 and taken the
sample from us without permission and we wouldn't have cared, the
Negativland sample he used was itself appropriated by us without permission
from a religious flexi-disc originally issued in 1966. [In fact, a
Negativland member LITERALLY stole this record from the basement of
a church in Concord CA.]
The Letter U
and the Numeral 2 :
This is probably one the best sampling stories ever. A small paragraph
cannot do it justice so I urge all of you to buy the book on the subject.
One of the most notable cases involving Negativland was unfortunately
settled out of court by their label at the time. In 1989, the band
sampled portions of the band U2's song "I Still Haven't Found What
I'm Looking For" and mixed it with angry outtakes of Casey Kasem messing
up an introduction of the same song whilst shouting vulgarities at
his staff. Negativland and their label were sued by U2 and wanted
to use the fair use exception as a defense. Unfortunately the label
settled before the band's attorneys could try the defense and, subsequently,
the label sued the band, causing their bankruptcy. At the time Negativland
appropriated the U2 song, U2 was engaged on their global "Zoo TV"
tour. The live performance was developed around the concept of media
saturation and featured over fifty different televisions on stage,
individually linked into different satellite feeds from around the
world. Several years later, in an interview for magazine Mondo 2000,
a member of Negativland asked U2's guitarist, The Edge, if fragmentary
appropriation should be permitted. The Edge responded that he supports
fragmentary appropriation if used in a different context of the original
work. The Negativland member then asked The Edge to pay his legal
bills to no avail. So, here, a band that says they favor fragmentary
appropriation, a band who engages in fragmentary appropriation, sue
for fragmentary appropriation and obtain a large settlement. Singer
Bono even once sang in his song "The Fly", "Every artist is a cannibal,
every poet is a thief." Apparently, some artists are hypocrites. Negativland
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