I came across this article about sampling over on BoingBoing the other day and I thought it was an interesting read because it kind of ties back into my rant from a couple of months ago about the whole Nina Paley thing and derivative works. And before we even begin, I’ll admit that part of my disdain for this concept of sampling is simply because I don’t really care for hip-hop or rap music in general, but nonetheless I think it’s still an intriguing topic to continue the discussion of creative entitlement amongst artists as a whole.

Now the post itself is actually a review of a full book, which I haven’t read, but it sounds like the book does a good job of covering many different perspectives on sampling, and one in particular that caught my eye mentioned “musicians who want to sample but can’t legally do so.” This is where the discussion links back to Nina Paley’s argument about seeking rights for her film because she wanted to use specific songs, couldn’t do so because it was cost-prohibitive, but also refused to select alternate songs because she felt that they were vital to the essence of her work. The blog post goes on to cite examples of how two well-known albums would’ve never been commercially viable had sampling fees been paid…

And that’s where I have to call bullshit, for a couple of reasons.

Reason #1 is that the math here seems fuzzy at best – if you refer to the chart about halfway down the post, it cites that the artists only made $2.10 off of an $18.98 album, and thus after subtracting ten bucks in sampling fees, the artists would be in the hole -$7.87 for each copy sold. Which sounds horrible … until you ask “Why are the artists having to foot all of the sampling fees by themselves???” Another $16.88 being made off of that sale is going to other mystery businessmen, so why aren’t those guys contributing to the costs to create this work in the first place?! I know that if I was only making 11% royalties off of my sales, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be splitting that down into even further shares after the fact!

Reason #2 builds on this from both artistic as well as business logic then because as far as I’m concerned, if you can’t do it, you can’t do it! Whether it’s because your industry is muddied with middlemen that leave you with pennies on the dollar for your creative work or simply because the work that you want to derive your own from is out of your price range, the solution isn’t just to do it anyways and then grumble about the system keeping your art down afterwards! Unless you want to make music in your basement and never show it to anyone else, creating work that you’re actually allowed to distribute and profit from requires that you play by the rules of anyone who you’re borrowing from, and if those terms don’t work for you, then you’re more than welcome to try something different or heaven forbid, actually create an original body of work all by yourself…

I guess it all comes back to original vs. derived for me because hey, when you create an original work, it’s yours – end of discussion. But if you insist on making things that include other people’s things in them, you’re inherently entering into a relationship with those people, and you have to understand the risks involved with that. Some people are extremely open to sharing their work with whoever else wants to build on it, and some would prefer to be the only ones working in that space. Either way, it’s their work and thus they get to set the price if you want to play with their toys, like it or not. And if you decide to just steal one of their toys because you think it costs too much, don’t be surprised when they hit you over the head with a legal shovel for feeling entitled to their hard work in the name of creating your own art.

Sure, some great new albums and pieces of art have come from being derivative works, but so have a lot of crappy ones and what seems like artistic genius to you might not actually sound that desirable to the guy who wrote the song that you want to include in your stupid, little movie. As a result, it’s his right to charge out the ass for the rights to use his music, or flat out just say no altogether. It’s not a “problem with the system,” it’s a problem with entitled artists who feel like they should be able to build off of anyone else’s work that they want without any repercussions. It’s easy to play the little guy and cry how the big boys never want to play with you, but I’d bet you’d feel differently if you had created songs that were worth charging $20,000 a pop for!

The bottom line for me is that if you insist on using other people’s stuff, you have to play by their rules. You can call that artistically-stifling if you’d like, however why is using the work so important if there’s no mutual respect for the other artist who created it anyways? If you only appreciate the work itself and can’t have enough respect for the person who actually made it to understand why they should get paid for their efforts, then you really have no business collaborating with them in the first place.

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