Stealing vs Sampling

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July 12, 2016 by DJ Elroy

As part of the electronic music culture I think it’s safe to say we’re all well aware of how often (and sometimes how blatantly) music is stolen, er, sampled. Do I have a huge problem with sampling? No, not really. In fact I actually like how creative a lot of artists get with it (check out this Prodigy vid I posted a few years back). It some cases it truly is an art.

However, I do think there’s a difference between grabbing a riff or hook or snippet of a song and stealing entire sections or general ideas.

But first this: For traditional musicians, taking music note-for-note is obviously stealing. The gray area is using an idea or sound and building off it. I’m sure it’s done intentionally quite a bit, but I know from experience that I’ve come up with some killer riffs only to hear them later and realize somebody had come up with them first and I was subconsciously playing them back without knowing at the time I was hearing somebody else’s song in my head.

It’s a bit different for electronic music. Sampling a riff or pattern (while still under the same copyright protections) is a bit less of an offense. Right? The sample is used as a bit of the song itself, not as the individual notes. It’s… it’s… Hell, as I type this I realize I don’t really know what I’m trying to say. Is there even a difference between tradition musicians stealing music and electronic musicians sampling music?

Recently Led Zepplin won their “Stairway” court battle (although they have “lifted” music before and I don’t believe they’re really innocent in this lawsuit, either). But I agree with the jury; it’s not the same song. I won’t say they didn’t borrow the idea to start but the end result isn’t similar enough to Spirit’s “Taurus” in this case.

Also earlier this year Kraftwerk lost their own copyright case. Big news!

And there have been plenty of sampling and copyright lawsuits in pop, hip-hop, and pretty much all types music, so it’s not just exclusive to EDM or the kind of stuff you’ll hear me rap about on this blog.

Hell, the Amen Break (and if you need me to tell you what that is, you don’t belong here at all) was ripped from The Winstons’ “Amen Brother” and is probably the most widely used sample out there…

Maybe you could even say sampling the the backbone of our music.

My question is, where do you draw the line between sampling and stealing? Is it how much of the song you take? How long you sample for? What part you use? The vocals? The instruments? Sounds? Structure? Or just the idea?

What’s the difference, and are you okay with one but not the other?

A while back I got a 2015 promo called “Turbophunk” by the Rivett Spinners. Recognizable, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Then I checked out the remixes. And as I was listening to the remixes ( from a newer 2016 release) I knew I’d heard the song somewhere before.

Check out the Original and Remixes of “Turbophunk” on Beatport.

It didn’t take much digging to come up with the 2001 hit “Ill Concepts” by the Street Preacherz.

Here’s the vid for Street Precherz’ “Ill Concepts”:

Notice the similarity? It seems like it’s more than just using the same sample, right? It sounds like it’s almost the same song entirely. In fact, “Turbophunk” could be a remix of “Ill Concepts”.

Without the original credits or compensation, of course.

But let’s take it back even further; the loop used in the 2001 song was actually sampled from a 1977 song called “Which Way is Up” by Stargard. So if one guy steals it from another guy that “stole” it, where does that take us?

But there is a huge difference between using a sample and ripping off an entire song. The sampled riff in “Up” is pretty obvious, but it’s easy to argue that the song wasn’t stolen.

But can the same be said for “Turbophunk”?

The argument could be made that since the sample IS the entire song for both the 2001 track and the 2015 track, of course they’ll sound similar and there’s nothing to see here so move on to more important things like how American indian headdresses at festivals are offensive and the the patriarchy is ruining DJing for everyone.*

But that’s the point. It’s one thing to use a 1- or 2- or 5- second snippet or sample, but to take an entire song is something else. And that’s where I’d draw the line.

Sure, the 2015 “original” is more filtered, slowed/pitched down, and has more laid on top. Some of the new remixes don’t much sound like “Ill Concepts”, either.

But some of those remixes on the promo DO sound almost exactly like the 2001 song.

So where do we go from here? Is anything and everything fair use? Samples are one thing, but it seems to be the newer “Turbophunk” mixes did more than sample “Ill Concepts”; some pretty much took the entire song and simply made a few tweaks without changing much else.

Where do you think the line is drawn between sampling and stealing? Post up some ideas in the comments below!

*a bit of sarcasm aimed directly at all you SJW idiots out there that keep posting up whiny articles and hand-wringing blog posts about this type of shit. Stop, already. Seriously.

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