How did the Depression-era folk-song collector Alan Lomax end up with a songwriting credit on Jay-Z’s song “Takeover”? Why doesn’t Clyde Stubblefield, the primary drummer on James Brown recordings from the late 1960s like “Funky Drummer” and “Cold Sweat,” get paid for other musicians’ frequent use of the beats he performed on those songs? The music industry’s approach to digital sampling—incorporating snippets of existing recordings into new ones—holds the answers. Exploring the complexities and contradictions in how samples are licensed, Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola interviewed more than 100 musicians, managers, lawyers, industry professionals, journalists, and scholars.
In 1998 university professor and professional art prankster Kembrew McLeod trademarked the phrase "freedom of expression" as a joke, an amusing if dark way to comment on how intellectual property law is increasingly being used to fence off the culture and restrict the way we're allowed to express ideas. But what's happened in recent years to intellectual property law is no joke and has had repercussions on our culture and our everyday lives. The trend toward privatization of—melodies, genes, public space, the English language—means an inevitable clash of economic values against the value of free speech, creativity, and shared resources. Our irreplaceable cultural commons is being sectioned up and sold off to the highest bidders and the most aggressive litigators.
Owning Culture demonstrates how intellectual property law has expanded to allow for private ownership of a remarkable array of things, from the patenting of human genes linked to breast cancer to the trademarking of the phrases "home style" and "freedom of ownership." This book examines diverse areas of contemporary life affected by intellectual property law, including sampling practices in hip-hop music, the appropriation of Third World indigenous knowledge about the medical uses of plants, the effects of seed patenting on farming, and the impact of copyright law on folk music-making. Clearly written, thoughtful, and thought provoking, Owning Culture provides an innovative approach to the study of culture and law.