I couldn't sleep last night, so I watched a short documentary on Netflix. Copyright Criminals took a look at the prevalence of sampling in today's music. More than anything, it asked the question, "Are DJs/samplers musicians?" "Does their work require talent?"
You had some people, mostly on the legal side of the issue, say that DJs and hip hop artists are talentless hacks. They're either not talented enough, or creative enough, to come up with their own material.
Interesting fact: Rick James sold 3 million copies of his Super Freak single. MC Hammer sampled Super Freak in You Can't Touch This. Hammer sold 10 million copies of his single.
Some artists argue that many jazz and funk tunes sampled in hip hop's heyday comprised of beats or trumpet hits that were, for the most part, improvised. The drummer or trumpet player was usually a studio musician that was paid a flat fee to record a backing track. They didn't receive any songwriting credit or any royalties from the track. If they're sampling a trumpet hit from a James Brown tune, why should they have to pay Brown's estate to get permission to use a part of the song he had nothing to do with?
One person in the film likened sampling/mashups to what Andy Warhol did with his work. He took copyrighted photos and painted over them. He took trademarked packaging and painted them on canvas. The world agrees today that he was a genius.
The documentary specifically brought up the case of Danger Mouse's Grey Album. If you've never heard of The Grey Album, Danger Mouse (the second half of Gnarls Barkley) mixed the vocals of Jay-Z's Black Album with music from The Beatles White Album. The result was legendary.
Danger Mouse never had any intention on releasing the album for commercial sale. As soon as he started distributing it on the internet, EMI, The Beatles music publisher, immediately sent a cease and desist. The original artists never filed a complaint. In fact, Jay-Z's label has never said a word about the album. The Grey Album became the most downloaded and widely distributed album of 2004. Had EMI been willing to play nice, everyone involved could have made a lot of money.
Another artist featured in the film was the duo Eclectic Method. Watch this and tell me, "Is this talent or technology at work?" There's a segment at 5:52, where they put a beat together using the swings of a sword. It's pretty badass.
One of my favorite videos is of a mashup done by a 15-year-old French kid. He mashes together 39 of his favorite songs in a matter of three-and-a-half minutes. Can you even figure out all 39 songs he sampled? Even if you could, are the samples recognizable to where anyone listening to it could say, "He ripped off _____."? Considering standard costs related to gaining permission from record labels, this tune could possibly cost $4 million or more in legal fees. Is he stealing the artistic creations of someone else, or has this kid created a completely new piece of art?