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‘Copyright Criminals’ Doc Examines Sampling in Hip-Hop

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As hip-hop grew into a legitimate genre that sold millions of albums, a battle developed between producers sampling old records and copyright holders that tried to stop the flow of music. A documentary film entitled ‘Copyright Criminals’ explores this clash between sampling and the law. It will get its first national look on PBS during the week of Nov. 29.

‘Copyright Criminals,’ which has been called “amazing” by Rolling Stone scribe Rob Sheffield, features a robust cast of musicians speaking on copyright issues. Experts include Public Enemy‘s Chuck D and Hank Shocklee, as well as De La Soul, whose ‘3 Feet High And Rising’ remains one of the most sample-heavy records of all-time. Other commentary comes from funk godfather George Clinton, iconic producer Steve Albini and James Brown’s drummer Clyde Stubblefield — a man who has probably been sampled more than anyone else throughout hip-hop history.

The broadcast comes at an important time in the history of copyright battles. With the prevalence of the Internet and digital recording technology, it’s easier than ever to sample and warp existing music into something new and the recording industry has had trouble keeping up. Modern examples such as Girl Talk, whose recent release ‘All Day’ contained more than 350 samples, have built a career out of creative sampling that skirts copyright laws.

Check your local PBS listings for when ‘Copyright Criminals’ will screen in your town.

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