Monday, December 3, 2007

Amen Brother, the World's Most Popular Drum Break

Here's an old video from 2004 that just came to my attention. (Thanks Peter!) It doesn't really need to be a video, since it's mostly audio commentary over a shot of a record player. The commentary, though, is very interesting -- it discusses what is arguably the most important breakbeat of all time (the "Amen Brother" break). I don't follow the author's logical leap that one company claiming copyright of their copy of this breakbeat is proof of overbearing copyright laws, but I do agree in some sort of copyright reform. I may be misinterpreting the author's intent, but I think he is implying, though citation of Lawrence Lessig among others, that radical change in copyright laws are required to enable breakbeat and hip hop music to survive because of increased litigation.

While I think the record industry has done some despicable things in this situation, and I never approve of "making examples" of people, I don't think we need to tear down copyright laws all together. Rather than ending copyright as we know it (which, as a practical matter, is not going to happen in the foreseeable future) there are plenty of other solutions. For example, right now when bands wish to do a cover song, the paperwork and fees involved are both reasonable because the industry has setup a clearinghouse for it: the Harry Fox Agency. In the same way, it would be great if the industry setup a clearinghouse for samples. Granted, the calculations for using samples would be more complex, and in some cases it may be intractable, but there's no reason it could not be done for many or even most cases of sample use.

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