STAY FREE'S ILLEGAL ART COMPILATION CD
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01 Negativland U2: Special Edit Radio Mix (5:46)
02 Biz Markie Alone Again (2:52) *
03 People Like Us Swinglargo (5:20)
04 Culturcide They Aren't the World (4:30) *
05 The Evolution Control Committee Rocked by Rape (4:28)
06 Beastie Boys Rock Hard (4:53) *
07 Dummy Run f.d.(1:23)
08 John Oswald black (2:01)
09 Corporal Blossom White Christmas (3:19)
10 Tape-beatles Reality of Matter (2:37)
11 Public Enemy Psycho of Greed (3:11)
12 The Verve Bittersweet Symphony (4:35) *
13 Wobbly Clawing Your Eyes Out Down to Your Throat (1:21)
14 De La Soul Transmitting Live from Mars (1:07) *
15 Buchanan and Goodman The Flying Saucer (4:18) *
16 The JAMs The Queen and I (4:50) *
17 Elastica Connection (2:20) *
18 Steinski and Mass Media The Motorcade Sped On (4:26) *
19 Invisibl Skratch Piklz white label edit (5:30) *
20 Xper.Xr Wu-chu-tung (1:43)
21 Boone Bischoff Happy Birthday To You (0:28)
* used without permission
Music has always been a craft of borrowing. In traditional, or folk, music, melodies and lyrics were handed down from generation to generation. At every stage, musicians would change the tune or substitute words at will, adapting songs to their own situations.
Like their predecessors, the artists featured here have drawn from the music around them--whether by borrowing a guitar riff or taking a digital sample--to create something new. But unlike their folk ancestors, they all run the risk of getting sued.
Two technologies, separated by centuries, have brought us to this point. First, writing and printing gave birth to the composer and the idea that a single person could own a piece of music. Second, sound recording allowed music performances to be stored and replayed--again, permitting an individual (or a company) to claim it as property.
These two kinds of musical property are reflected in present-day copyright law: "publishing rights" apply to the ownership of written music and "master rights" apply to the ownership of a recording of that music. When you use a portion of someone else's recording of a song, you need permission from the publisher and "clearance" from the owner of that recording. When you record without these permissions--and the exorbitant fees that go with them--you're in trouble. Not surprisingly, only a few musicians, like Puff Daddy and Fatboy Slim, can afford to sample legally.
For our culture to be a space for free expression and for creativity to flourish, audio artists must be able to build on bits and pieces of preexisting music. While the "fair use" doctrine allows artists to appropriate other works, it does so only in cases of commentary or parody. Fair use doesn't apply to the majority of "second-takers," those artists who reuse sounds without directly referring to the original.
Most of these tracks would never have existed if the artists had adhered to copyright law. Many other works might never be heard unless we act soon to grant artists the right to create them.
"U2: Special Edit Radio Mix"
The story behind this track and why it is officially
"unavailable" is perhaps one of the best-known cases of a
corporate giant record company crushing obscure artists in the name
of intellectual property. In summary, U2s label, Island
Records, sued Negativland and SST Records for trademark and copyright
infringement. The resulting fiasco inspired Negativland to publish a
book, Fair Use, which meticulously documents the entire
affair. Negativland is now a tireless advocate of relaxing copyright
laws and has often helped other artists fight off litigation; many
major labels now understand that messing with Negativland will almost
certainly result in bad publicity.
Gilbert OSullivans 1991 lawsuit against Biz Markie for
the uncleared use of 20 seconds from OSullivans
"Alone Again (Naturally)" was a major turning point in the
evolution of hip-hop. Markie lost the case; the judge told him,
verbatim, "Thou shalt not steal." With that, the era of
carefree sampling was over. Sample-heavy albums in the vein of Public
Enemys It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back or
the Beastie Boys Pauls Boutique became impossibly
expensive and difficult to release. Many artists continued to sample
but retreated into using more and more obscure source material.
People Like Us
Englands People Like Us (a.k.a. Vicki Bennett) hasnt
been sued yet, perhaps because most of her source materials are
obscure. Her work is almost 100% uncleared samples.
"They Arent the World"
In 1987 a group of artists based in Houston took the name
Culturcide and released a record called Tacky Souvenirs of
Pre-Revolutionary America. The album had no information about who
was in Culturcide or how to contact themperhaps because what
they had done could have gotten them into legal trouble. Each track
on the record is a pop hit with new lyrics recorded crudely over the
top, sometimes with bits of noisy guitar added on. The new words are
extremely pointed criticisms of the music industry.
The Evolution Control Committee
"Rocked by Rape"
Built from AC/DCs "Back in Black" and snippets
from Dan Rather newscasts, this piece was released as a single in
1999 by Eerie Materials but then withdrawn under threat of litigation
The Beastie Boys released this as a single in 1985, and it quickly
went out of print. The song was to reappear on their 1999 The
Sounds of Science anthology, but they had to cut it after AC/DC
refused permission for the use of "Back in Black."
Beasties member Mike D reportedly talked to the band personally on
the phone: "AC/DC could not get with the sample concept. They
were just like, Nothing against you guys, but we just
dont endorse sampling."
British collagists Dummy Run make their music almost completely
from other music. Taken from their 1996 album Pink Rocket,
this piece is a self-reflective glimpse at some of the issues
involved in sampling.
Oswald constructed this piece out of a dizzying array of James
Brown samples, partially as a commentary on just how often
Browns work has been reused by others. The track originally
appeared on his 1989 CD Plunderphonic, which brought Oswald
threats of legal action from the Canadian Recording Industry
Association. He eventually was forced to relinquish all remaining
copies of the disc, which were then physically destroyed. Despite all
this, the album has become a cult classic in the genre of
This track, which originally appeared on A Mutated
Christmas (Illegal Art, 2024), combines various recordings of the
classic Christmas carol. None of the samples have been cleared. If
Corporal Blossom were forced to pay for all of them, the track would
have to disappear.
"Reality of Matter"
The Tape-beatles goal since their inception in 1987 has been
to explore the potential of making music without musical instruments,
using only recording technology. They also believe that
"recontextualization of previously finished works
can be done ethically and can in itself constitute authorship."
This example of their work comes from their 1999 disc Good
"Psycho of Greed"
This unreleased track was recorded for PEs latest CD,
Revolverution. It contains a sample of the Beatles song
"Tomorrow Never Knows." The clearance fee demanded by
Capitol Records and the surviving Beatles was so high that PE decided
to pull the track from the album.
This hit pop song uses a sample from a string arrangement of
"The Last Time" by the Rolling Stones. The Verve had
trouble getting a licensing agreement from the Stones
publisher, Alan Klein, who said, "I dont agree with
sampling as a matter of principle, and certainly not on a Stones
song." (This is a strange stance, given that the Stones launched
their career with covers of blues songs without compensating the
original artists.) Eventually Klein gave in, but only after the Verve
agreed to sign over all royalties to "Bittersweet Symphony"
to the Stones. Later, when Nike approached the Verve about using the
song in a commercial, the band refused. Nike then approached Klein
about recording a cover version, since he owned the publishing
rights. When members of the Verve found out about this, they agreed
to let Nike use their version and donated their fee to charity.
"The last thing in the world I wanted was for one of my songs to
be used in a commercial," said Richard Ashcroft of the Verve.
"Im still sick about it. But it could have been worse. If
we didnt fight for the song, Symphony would have
ended up in a cheeseburger ad and no one could ever have taken our
record seriously again."
"Clawing Your Eyes Out Down to Your Throat"
From Wobblys Playlist (Illegal Art, 2024), this song
contains samples from a variety of sources, including several Johnny
Cash songs. Like many sample-based works that dont explicitly
criticize the source material, this track would probably not be
defendable in court as Fair Use.
De La Soul*
"Transmitting Live from Mars"
This track, from the album 3 Feet High and Rising, samples
a song by the 1960s band The Turtles, which sued De La Soul in 1989
and won a judgment of $1.7 million. For its next album, De La Soul
made sure to clear all samples, which cost a total of $100,000.
Buchanan and Goodman*
"The Flying Saucer"
Released in 1956, this record is probably the first successful use
of "sampling" in popular music. It was done with magnetic
tape, as digital technology did not yet exist. Dickie Goodman and
Bill Buchanan edited together this alien invasion skit out of popular
songs, for which they were sued for multiple copyright infringements.
Their record label came to an agreement with the publishers of the
original songs, and the record went on to sell close to a million
copies, spawning a whole genre of "break-in" or
"snippet" records. The hit record also served to boost
sales of the sampled songs, and spurred interest in their creators,
many of whom were African-American singers whose original renditions
had never been heard by a mainstream (white) audience. Ironically,
a recently released retrospective CD of Goodmans work
substitutes an alternative version of "Flying Saucer" (with
reworked snippets) for the original, most likely due to licensing
"The Queen and I"
The iconoclastic Justified Ancients of Mu Mu released their first
album in 1987, called 1987: What the Fucks Going On? It
included many tracks that contained uncleared samples of popular
music, but this one got them into particular trouble when they were
sued by the Swedish group Abba for using almost all of "Dancing
Queen." The album was deleted and remaining copies destroyed.
The records original label read: "All sounds on this
recording have been captured by The JAMs in the name of Mu. We hereby
liberate these sounds from all copyright restrictions, without
prejudice." (The JAMs are also known as the KLF, which stands
for Kopyright Liberation Front.)
The British punk band Wire thought the main guitar riff from this
song sounded too similar to its "Three Girl Rhumba,"
released in the 70s. In 1995, Wire threatened Elastica with legal
action, and the matter was settled out of court.
Steinski & Mass Media*
"The Motorcade Sped On"
Steven Stein created this cut-up of Kennedy assassination
coverage. His label, Tommy Boy, was unable to officially release it
because CBS refused to grant clearance for the use of Walter
Cronkites voice. It was instead released as a white label
12-inch single in 1986.
Invisibl Skratch Piklz*
white label edit
The Piklz are a special sort of band composed of a rotating lineup
of hip-hop DJs, including Q-bert, Mixmaster Mike, and Shortcut. These
highly skilled turntablists scratch out songs together live, each
using a record and a record player as an instrument, each
contributing, in real time, a different part (like drums, bass line,
or horn stabs) to the music. This track comes from a 12-inch record
pressed and circulated in 1996 with no information (a "white
label"). Hip-hop and dance records often appear in this limited,
underground manner and then vanish forever, never to be officially
released due to copyright issues.
Originally from Hong Kong and now based in London, Xper.Xr adds
his own personal accompaniment to EMFs pop hit
"Unbelievable." From his album Lun Hsiao Shai
"Happy Birthday To You"
Yes, the song the entire Western world sings at birthday parties
is actually owned by a large corporation, and every time someone
sings it in public without permission, it is an infringement of
copyright. The songs tune was published by schoolteachers
Mildred and Patty Hill in 1893 as "Good Morning to All" in
their book Song Stories for the Kindergarten. Children began
singing it at birthday parties but with words they came up with
themselves, which is how folk music typically develops. Nevertheless,
the songlyrics and allis now owned by AOL Time Warner,
the largest entertainment company on earth, and the corporation
aggressively defends its property.
Jeremy J. Beadle, Will Pop Eat Itself: Pop Music in the
Soundbite Era, Faber & Faber, London, 1993.
Kembrew McLeod, Owning Culture, Peter Lang Publishing, New
Peter Shapiro, "Tangents", The Wire, April 2024, issue
218, p. 47.
* used without permission
Track research, selection, and liner notes by Philo T. Farnsworth, Steev Hise, and Carrie McLaren. Thanks also to Alexandra Ringe.