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 2
Kristin: Some folks who come to this topic of sampling might have some preconceived notions about what it is, and even the “rules” around it. There’s one that I’ve heard through the years, the “seven second rule” or the “seven beat rule.” In other words, there’s a notion that a person is allowed to sample another person’s work as long as it’s less than seven seconds or seven beats. What did you find out about this assumption?
Kembrew: First of all, it’s important to say that it’s not true; there is no seven second or seven beats rule, but a lot of people believe it exists. It became obvious to us is that there are a lot of misunderstandings and a lot of urban legends surrounding rights clearance. And, I discovered is that even the people who should know better and who do have this first-hand experience ended up repeating a lot of myths.
By talking to stakeholders, we also discovered just how much information you need to navigate this system. One of the things that we realized was that when people don’t have direct exposure to sample-clearance systems, they end up just repeating what they hear from their friends and others.
Peter: I agree. I think one of the big themes that came out of the interviews is this issue of familiarity with how the rights clearance system works. Knowledge and expertise become a kind of threshold. They become a barrier to entry for new musicians, and for musicians on independent labels. As you read about the details of the rights-clearance process in the book, it becomes clear that you need a lawyer to navigate this stuff. On top of that, you learn that even with a savvy lawyer, that lawyer needs to have specific relationships with the major label system and the large publishers in order to get certain kinds of deals done. Insider social and business relationships can become really important.
What the book details is what happens when folk wisdom hits a buzz saw. As a sampler, you think that five seconds or seven seconds is okay, and then you learn that there’s this whole complicated apparatus that doesn’t have any kind of bright-line rules that benefit the ordinary users or practitioners.
Tomorrow: Part 3
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