Digital Sampling & the Mash-Up: A ‘Grey Area for Copyright Law

“The thing that’s really interesting about sampling is that we all do it…. We’ll pick up a catch phrase, or we’ll hear a song and we might sing it again on the street…. And the technology has allowed us to be able to immediately go to those source thoughts, source ideas, source moments, and to actually work with them creatively…. You could say that humans are just sampling machines…. We all learn by taking in what we hear and see and trying to imitate it, and output it again. That’s how we learn to speak. That’s how we learn to paint and make music as well.” (Jeff Chang, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop)

A Grey Area for Copyright Law

This paper explores the mash-up, a composition created by blending two or more pre-recorded songs; usually the vocal track of one song over the instrumental track of another. Utilizing Danger Mouse’s 2004 record, The Grey Album, which “mashed” vocal performances from Jay-Z’s The Black Album against instrumentals from The Beatles’ White Album, this paper delves into the legal copyright implications that mash-ups, and more specifically, digital sampling have created.

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