Copyright Criminals discusses the implications of sampling, or using pieces of previously recorded sound to create and produce new music. Sampling and remixing is commonly used in hip-hop music. Within the music industry, sampling is deemed controversial because it involves using pieces of other musician’s recordings in one’s own work. The film featured record label executives, hip-hop producers, hip-hop artists, and MCs sharing their perspectives on the ethics and the art behind sampling.
Although I believe that giving credit where it’s due is important, and that plagiarism is unethical, art in its essence is in an entirely different domain. I feel conflicted about whether art should be copyrighted or even if it should be designated a price. At a certain point, art becomes more about the name of the producer, songwriter, instrumentalist, or singer rather than the quality, effort, or aesthetic of the work.
I also felt that the name of the film, “copyright criminals,” was embedded in an oppressive ideology that positions black creators as “criminals.” I think that oftentimes blackness is associated with innate criminalization and illegality–to name a film about predominantly black hip-hop artists “copyright criminals,” further contributes to that ideology. One of the white record label executives described hip-hop as being a “culture of stealing someone else’s work and calling it your own.” I also thought it was interesting that the white artists who purposely stole and “de-funked” black records (without giving them any financial or social recognition) were not referred to as criminals. The black hip-hop artists were also referred to as “non-traditional” musicians, whereas artists like Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, and others were referred to as “traditional artists that are easy to grasp and wrap your arms around.” Hip-hop is rooted in resistance; in a desire to express institutionalized and individualized racism that black folks face. It may be hard to wrap around or consume for certain demographics, but they were telling their narratives, so people who faced similar situations could understand and be empowered by their art.
I think it was important to note that the hip-hop artists acknowledged they were from a “culture of sharing.” Sharing art and culture is a concept that seems foreign, especially within Western notions of ownership, individualism, and consumerism. I think it is powerful to create free content, shareable content, and content that encourages collaboration and collectivity.