I realize that the film Copyright Criminals—a relatively short documentary about sampling in hip-hop music—may not directly concern graphic design. It does, however, detail seminal moments in the history of sampling in the music industry. Hip-hop sampling draws many similarities to copyrighting in the graphic arts, especially to our collage conversation in class—notably the debate concerning how much a collage made from copyrighted images must artistically change. Lifting someone’s photo for a collage is not unlike lifting a Funkadelic backbeat, and often times concerns the same legal and moral issues. James Brown’s original funky drummer, Clyde Stubblefield, has been called the most sampled drummer and has never seen a penny from it. Or, if you felt so inclined, you can cover “Stairway to Heaven” on a record, but if you sample a riff or change the lyrics, you’ll very quickly see lawyers. Dangermouse’s Gray Album of 2004 is an influential and fantastic record that shamelessly remixes Jay-Z’s Black Album with the Beatles White Album. An argument—and a damned fine one at that—is that the greatest artists copy; no music or art is entirely original, everything builds off of prior work. In fact, the whole legal standing on sampling seems to remain a gray area; nothing is really wrapped up at its conclusion. The film draws some pretty interesting arguments about copyrighting that reach beyond the music industry and into all of the arts. Also, the film features some killer mash-ups and interviews, and includes a soundtrack far better than that of every graphic design film in existence. Watch Copyright Criminals free below on hulu:

http://www.hulu.com/embed/Rspe2xzWwfAaX5rgbI0EQA

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