Amir Said, producer and author of The Beat Tips Manual, has weighed in on PBS’s recent Copyright Criminals documentary on his site. Here is an excerpt:
Last night (Tuesday, January 19) PBS premiered Copyright Criminals, a documentary film based on the art of sampling and the complexities that surround it. Billed as the examination of the “creative and commercial value of musical sampling,” Copyright Criminals is mostly off base and surprisingly limited in scope.
The film opens with a very predictable titles on black definition of sampling:
1: to use a segment of another’s musical recording as part of one’s own recording.”
I found this definition to be very misleading and rather disturbing. What’s the purpose and significance of including the description: “another’s musical recording,” and not simply “sound recording?” The art of sampling—in its most fundamental meaning—is less about possession and more about creation, style, and reconstruction of any recorded sound that appeals to the would-be sampler. So as to where the filmmakers received that definition of “sample,” is unclear. However, it is clear, right from the start, that the filmmakers intend to frame their discussion of the art of sampling in a context of ownership rather than one of art and/or cultural significance. Although I expected the ownership context (given the name of the film), I was surprised by Copyright Criminal’s otherwise lax coverage of the cultural and artistic context of the art of sampling. Note. Heavy screen time with drummer Clyde Stublefield (member of James Brown’s band (1965-1970) was appreciated, but not at the expense of a more thorough exploration of sampling’s origins in the hip hop/rap and beatmaking traditions.