Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Ulf Oesterle, Assistant Professor Bandier Program, Syracuse University
David Rezak Director, Bandier Program
Visual and Performing Arts
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Law | Music | Other Music
The proliferation of “sampling” in recorded music and live performances has amplified the level of appropriation and cultural borrowing that exists in the music industry. Artists, music companies and stakeholders on every level from independent to mainstream have been affected by this trend. In addition to catalyzing innovation and inspiring new forms of expression, these creative works, broadly referred to as “mash-ups”, have also been the subject of heated legal debates related to claims of copyright infringement in the last 20 years. This study discusses the essential issues surrounding the musical practice of “sampling” audio recordings, including the issues of copyright infringement related to “sampling” and the legal defenses that have been employed to contest these claims in relevant legal cases.
While presenting legal research and interviews with key players in the entertainment industry, this paper also includes a predictive and persuasive interpretation of specific copyright issues related to sampling. Based on the U.S. Code and case law, this study delves into the “grey area” of copyright law, related to the governance and enforcement of ownership pertaining to sound recordings. By highlighting key arguments of both supporters and opponents of works made from “sampled” sources, the synthesis of opinions expressed herein is presented for the purpose of supporting a practical, dynamic framework for the sustainability of this delicate relationship between art and commerce.
Furthermore, there is a creative component included within the scope of this project. Specifically, this creative work is an original music composition created by the author of this paper for the purpose of illustrating the central themes of this discussion. The concept behind this piece of music was to compose a 3-to-6-minute song built entirely from original instrumentation and arrangements, while integrating one “sample” from a pop music recording. The sample was constructed from a 2-second snippet of James Blake’s “CMYK” and manipulated in the following ways: rhythmic structure, arrangement, dynamics and modulation. In juxtaposing the audio sample with the original composition, there exists a beautiful tension that heightens the effect of the overall work. This feeling could not be achieved by separating the two; therefore this work serves as an embodiment of the premises that are included in the paper.
This project should be viewed not as two disparate components distinct from one another; it should instead be viewed as an observation of the complexities that inherently arise in a multifaceted music ecosystem, where several interests must be considered. While the paper and auditory component together suggest that a compromise, a “happy medium”, can be reached to the mutual benefit of the art and business of music, it is clear that some work still needs to be done before we can implement a fluid framework designed for the cost-effective and efficient licensing of audio recordings for sampling purposes.
Kiviat, Trevor, "Mash-up Culture: Reconciling Art, Commerce and the Law" (2011). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 220.
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