Law in Contemporary Society

How Changing Copyright Law Can Have A Positive Effect on Copyright Law



Hip-Hop was born not too far from Columbia, in the Bronx. One of the most widely recognized forms of hip-hop is rap music. Rap music was influenced by many other genres of music that were popular among African-Americans. The original rap music was instrumentally based on samples. The samples originated from a wide variety of music including blues, jazz, funk, soul and disco. Before the commercialization of hip-hop in the early 1990s, sampling of these genres were without issue and the art form thrived. One of the first and most prominent sample issues involved MC Hammer’s track, You Can’t Touch This. Since that time, hip-hop has strayed from its original sound and style. Sampling increased the cost of production for rap artists who remain true to the original form of art. It has had the effect of pushing some of the best rap music underground. Rethinking the legal framework of copyright law and sampling could create an environment that would allow rap music to return to its origin.

Context Behind the Importance of the Issue

Hip-hop has emerged as the most important and influential forms of expression for the African-American community. The impact that hip-hop has on the perception of African-American values and on the state of the African-American community is powerful. The mainstream media often justifies or insinuates that values of the African-American community are verified by the lyrics of todays artists. These values are primarily based on a genre that glorifies the degradation of African-American women, conspicuous consumption and drug addiction. But since the commercialization of hip-hop, the lyrical content has been driven primarily by industry executives who prioritize profit at the expense of the original art form. The industry has coerced some of the most socially conscious artists to compromise their sound for profits. A situation that illustrates this point is the evolution of the career of Lupe Fiasco. Before the release of his third album, Lasers, Atlantic Records refused to release his album until he included more mainstream friendly singles. Although Fiasco’s album was ultimately released, his artistic integrity was compromised. He went from rapping about the lack of healthy eating habits in the African-American community to releasing crowd pleasers.

A Possible Solution

The current copyright law system stifles creativity by giving prior artists a monopoly over a particular sound. Most of these monopolies are owned by a few huge record labels who own the rights to this music. A better copyright system would release these companies from their monopolies and provide newer artists with the ability to use prior works without expending a huge amount of resources. One solution would be to treat samples in a similar manner as covers are treated. Artists who cover another artist’s music must first attempt to negotiate a license for the prior work. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, or if the prior artists is unwilling to negotiate, then the newer artist has the option of a compulsory license. The newer artists register’s the license with the Copyright Office and a royalty of eight cents is paid to the prior artists.

Sample clearances are usually conducted under intense negotiations. The process requires a lot of resources, resources in which many up and coming artists lack. The advantage of the compulsory license scheme is eliminating the transaction cost of sampling while still allowing prior artists to profit from the fruits of their labor. Additionally, the compulsory license is also an ex ante benefit. The attractiveness of the major label in the American music industry is the resources they provide to artists. If the artists does not have money for studio time, the label fronts them the money. If the artists does not have the resources to promote an album or a tour, the label fronts them the money. But those resources often come at a price and that price is most likely artistic integrity. In exchange for those resources, an artists must release singles that appeal to the general public. Usually about three songs are dedicated for this purpose. Changing the copyright system would allow artists that do not have significant resources to avoid this scheme.

A Better Music Industry

Sophisticated technology like Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud and Bandcamp have given artists a platform to sustain their audiences without the substantial institutional support that could only be provided by record labels. The progression of technology has encouraged more artists to start their own independent labels and retain their artistic integrity and autonomy. In hip-hop specifically the fear of copyright infringement has pushed some of the best hip-hop underground. Most up and coming hip-hop artists are now releasing a lot of their best work for free. The artists attempts to create a sustainable audience that will intrigue the label into signing them. However, a change in the copyright laws would encourage more artists to create their own labels after they have created their own sustainable audience.

The most powerful tool in hip-hop music is the art of storytelling. The music industry has suppressed the type of storytelling that illustrates the painful and sometimes heartbreaking realities of African-American life. The labels have suppressed this form of hip-hop because it will not produce the type of profits that match their expected return on investment. This result is better for society because the genre could finally reflect the reality of the life the artists actually live. Just recently, Kendrick Lamar released his highly anticipated sophomore album To Pimp A Butterfly. The album broke records on Spotify. It has been the first hip-hop album in years that has gained commercial success and critical acclaim while also speaking to important issues in the African-American community like skin tone. This is further evidence that hip-hop music can thrive when it speaks to the important issues of the day and not to certain activities that are associated with the African-American community.


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r5 - 29 Jun 2015 - 20:46:15 - MarkDrake
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