Legal Issues and EDM: Sample Clearance and Anti-Rave Ordinances

An outdated copyright system and the prominence of remixing and sampling could become a problem for the EDM industry, especially if record labels try to glean revenue from sampling fees (6).

Most EDM music played by an artist during his or her set is not original, but rather a series of remixes and samples of other artists’ work. For example, the EDM group Cash Cash typically plays remixes for 70% of their set despite a successful discography of original productions (6).

In order for a remix to be legal, an artist must clear the samples or original tracks that are being used. These originals belong to the original artist under the Copyright Act of 1976. Moreover the act gives the original creator (the copyright holder) exclusive rights to all derivative works (which would include a remix or anything else which uses the original (17). If the sampling artist doesn’t get permission to create a remix or use the sample, then it is technically copyright infringement (6).

In order to get clearance, the sampling artist needs to negotitate with the copyright holder to use the sample at an agreed upon price. This creates an issue since the copyright holder can refuse to clear the rights and additionally, can choose to set an exorbitantly high price that might prevent newer artists or artists without financial means from sampling the track (6).

Still, the EDM industry is “lax” (6) when it comes to sample clearance and most artists don’t bother to get samples cleared. Again, this could become an industry wide problem is record companies start trying to seek revenues.

One potential solution to this problem is the concept of Creative Commons, promoted in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig, one of the most cited law professors in the world and also a major proponent of remixes (35). The idea behind creative commons is that artists can distribute their works through the organization of Creative Commons, which assigns the artists a creative commons license. The artist can choose which rights of the license to waive. By waiving rights, this could help artists worldwide sample the music for free. As of 2008, more than 130 million creative works have been licensed under this system.

Building off of this concept, it has been proposed that an EDM specific model could be even more beneficial. Essentially, it can be thought of the Beatport of sample clearance: an online community and database where information on sample clearance exists so DJs know what they can use and can also give permission to other to use their works (35).

Finally, during the 80s and 90s the EDM industry faced a unique issue: “anti rave laws.” Most famously, the “anti-rave” ordinance in Chicago banned any unlicenseded dance parties. This was in order to combat drugs and partying associated with the rave scene. The fines were significant for holding an unregistered event (20).

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