The Rise of the “Copyleft”

Steal This Hook? Girl Talk Flouts Copyright Law

Girl Talk, whose real name is Gregg Gillis, makes danceable musical collages out of short clips from other people’s songs; there are more than 300 samples on “Feed the Animals,” the album he released online at in June. He doesn’t get the permission of the composers to use these samples, as United States copyright law mostly requires, because he maintains that the brief snippets he works with are covered by copyright law’s “fair use” principle (and perhaps because doing so would be prohibitively expensive).

Girl Talk’s rising profile has put him at the forefront of a group of musicians who are challenging the traditional restrictions of copyright law along with the usual role of samples in pop music. Although artists like the Belgian duo 2 Many DJs have been making “mash-ups” out of existing songs for years, Girl Talk is taking this genre to a mainstream audience with raucous performances that often end with his shirt off and much of the audience onstage.

[…] “I want to take these things you know and flip them, which is something I’ve always enjoyed in hip-hop,” Mr. Gillis said. “This project has always been about embracing pop.”

But this embrace may be an illicit one, according to music industry executives. In legal terms a musician who uses parts of other compositions creates what copyright law calls a derivative work, so the permission of the original song’s writer or current copyright holder is needed. Artists who sample a recording also need permission from the owner, in most cases the record label. Hip-hop artists who don’t get that permission have been sued, often successfully.

Mr. Gillis says his samples fall under fair use, which provides an exemption to copyright law under certain circumstances. […]

[…] Fair use has become important to the thinking of legal scholars, sometimes called the “copyleft,” who argue that copyright law has grown so restrictive that it impedes creativity. And it has become enough of an issue that Mr. Gillis’s congressman, Representative Mike Doyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania, spoke on his behalf during a hearing on the future of radio.

The “copyleft?” Really? Is there a secret handshake or something?