Every day this week, we will be featuring portions of an interview that FMC’s Kristin Thomson conducted with Peter DiCola and Kembrew McLeod, co-authors of the recently-released book Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling (Duke University Press). Peter and Kembrew spent over five years pulling together the materials for this book, which details the development of the sample license clearance process through the eyes of musicians, rightsholders, attorneys, clearance experts and historians.
Interview: Part 1
Kristin: What got each of you interested in this topic of sampling, enough that you wanted to write a book about it?
Kembrew: I grew up listening to hip-hop music, and back then I never really thought about sampling as a legal issue. It was just an aesthetic issue; I thought about it more as art. But around 1990 or so when the lawsuits started flying – first with De La Soul and a year later with Biz Markie – I started paying attention to the legal implications. This subject is actually the whole reason I went to graduate school to become a professor and a researcher. So Creative License for me, personally, is the culmination of probably 10 years of listening pleasure, and about 20 years of research.
Peter: It’s a really different story for me because I came at it from the academic side and got interested in the creative aspect later. For me what’s interesting about sampling is that it’s a certain kind of musical practice that runs afoul of copyright law. Because of this, it becomes a really interesting test case of how the expansion of copyright law has affected creativity.
Kristin: Why was it important to write Creative License, and what was your research process?
Kembrew: One of the reasons that a book like Creative License needed to be written is to correct some facts. One thing that I’ve noticed in scholarly works about sampling is that a lot of previous researchers didn’t actually talk to artists who sample, artists who have been sampled, and the stakeholders who have first-hand knowledge of how sample clearance worked. And because of this, a lot of inaccurate information made its way into a lot of early research, and a lot of misinformation got perpetuated. So I felt it was really important to talk to stakeholders, to learn what they know based on their experiences.
Peter: What’s great about using interviews in economic research in this way is that they provide a really rich source of detailed knowledge about a specific area. There’s a lot of scholarship that talks about the broad sweep of copyright law and how its expansion affects creativity. But only by focusing on one sector of the industry – and one method of making music– can you really learn about whether the law is causing problems or not. As we did the research, it became clear that there were certain ways in which copyright law – and the business practices that have evolved under the shadow of copyright law – have affected people and creativity.
Tomorrow: Part 2
To support the book’s release, Peter and Kembrew are doing a number of public events and readings, including:
Tuesday, April 26: Peter DiCola and Kembrew McLeod at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, IA