If Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, the Eagles’ Don Henley, Deadmau5, Sting and other top songwriters have their way, the U.S. won’t change copyright laws to “strip” them of their right to refuse mashups, remixes and sampling of their songs. “I already have to allow other artists to record my songs without permission,” they wrote in individual letters to the Patent and Trademark Office earlier this month. “Allowing them to materially change my songs or recordings without my permission is taking it a step too far.”
Numerous artists have been frightened since a Commerce Department task force submitted a 112-page “green paper” last July analyzing copyright laws and dealing with a huge range of topics, from remixes to YouTube cover songs to the record industry’s lawsuits against 30,000 file-sharers. “The question is whether the creation of remixes is being unacceptably impeded,” the task force wrote. “There is today a healthy level of production, but clearer legal options might result in even more valuable creativity.”
While the green paper only analyzes policy without making specific recommendations for action, the U.S. received dozens of comments from artists, songwriters, authors and companies such as Microsoft, Google and eBay. Some argued for artists’ rights to sample older songs without fear of lawsuits or damages; a Future of Music Coalition letter quoted Public Enemy’s Chuck D on hip-hop sampling: “By 1994, [sample licensing] had become so difficult to the point where it was impossible to do any of the type of records we did in the late 1980s because every second of sound had to be cleared.”
One letter cited artist Thomas Forsythe’s “Food Chain Barbie” project, in which the iconic dolls are attacked by kitchen appliances — a social commentary about objectifying women. Mattel, which owns the dolls’ copyrights, later sued the artist. “To require the payment of a license fee under such circumstances seems morally problematic at least, and objectively harmful at worst,” reps for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Stanford University’s Internet Law Center declared.