Sampling Culture and the Ownership of Ideas

Some people say that sampling someone else’s tune ain’t real music. Personally speaking, I beg to differ.

Keeping up the Standards – Forget about Appearances
First of all there’s that long musical tradition of the standard. That’s when (in a period now in the past) bands used to have to know all the standards. They learnt the songs of the day, and of past days, and upon request they’d play their own version of the tune. Some of those versions are way, way, better my friend. If you care to search for that holy grail tune or idea, good on you.

The point is that there’s a long tradition of taking the ideas of your fathers and making them your own, representing them for your own era.  Nothing new here. Ideas should be up for grabs. Music should not be owned by the man, any man, ideas should be exchanged like wildfire for free.

James Brown... much loved and as a result much sampled.Care to Sample My Wares?

James Brown lost out big time, some say, because hip hop culture took all his tunes and sampled the fuck outta them. I beg to differ. He has gained an unrivalled status as a result of the way hip hop drew from his tunes and there’s no doubt, looking back retrospectively that James Brown has done nothing but benefit from hip hop. This is true both in terms of the props that hip hop has given him (and the second generation sales it has generated) as well as in terms of the cold hard cash that it has earned him in terms of copyright.

Copyright is an Ass

Nowadays people, there are those in the world who own the copyright to someone else’s work. For example Michael Jackson bought the Beatles, Eddy Grant has bought up almost the entire catalogue of Calypso from the 50s and won’t allow anyone else to release it. It’s all about the ownership of ideas.

In music, it started in the 50’s. Before that, copyright didn’t exist. Since then, it has always been used to regularly shoplift great ideas out of the hands of the people who had them and put them into the hands of those who can afford to buy them. In music they call it publishing and it’s the main cause of poverty amongst musicians. It’s also the main cause of wealth among some musicians. Someone else owns their tune. they had to sell it ‘cos they couldn’t eat at the time. Let me tell you, ideas are cheap when you first have them, you’ll sell them for a hot dinner. They only become expensive when someone has the cash to develop them…that’s when they become worth millions.

Is it truly possible to own an idea? To my way of thinking, when you have an idea and you send it into the world as a piece of music or art or literature or just as a plain old idea, nothing more, it’s no longer yours It belongs to everyone.  Surely that’s why you spat it out in the first place – because you wanted to spread your ideas to other people. Communication has a value all its own. That Idea. It belongs to the world – it has a life of it’s own and spreads like a virus (if it’s a good or great idea).

The truth of the matter is that ideas, in any form belong to the world, not to an individual. Do you really think you had that brilliant idea in isolation. NO! In truth we are standing on the shoulders of giants, and those giants are our forefathers.

We surely need to reinvent a way of acknowledge the brilliance of great thinkers without trying to own their ideas in whatever form. If we don’t, we’ll end up in a world where everything, but everything, is owned. I challenge you to show me a part of the physical world that is not already owned. Maybe you could find a square foot in the Sahara if you’re lucky. Mark my words, we are only a few years away from the same being true for the geography of ideas.

I personally don’t care for a world where all land, all ideas are owned. What’s left for the kids, kiddo??

Posted in Manifesto, Music Blog, Sample-Based |

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