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Horror Stories of Sampling:
One of 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.

  • The Verve and The Rolling Stones : Truly Bittersweet
  • Negativland, Coca-Cola, and Fatboy Slim
  • The Letter U and the Numeral 2

    The 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 again." Yum.

    Negativland, 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 account.

    Negativland writes: "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.

    "Stupidly, Fatboy 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 Site

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