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Abstract

This article brings together insights from legal studies with methods of analysis and areas of concern characteristic of media, cultural and music studies. My particular interest here is in how the uses of digital sampling by musicians, and legal practices surrounding these uses, affect how we might think about the issue of cultural ‘borrowing’, especially when white musicians borrow from black ones. This in turn throws light on the relationship between, on the one hand, music and copyright law and practice, and on the other, systemic forms of social and cultural inequality. While I agree that copyright law, in constructing digital sampling as unlawful without the permission of the originator of the sample, has tended not to encourage forms of creativity associated with African-Americans and other disempowered social groups (notably sample-based rap and hip hop music), I suggest that arguments for a generous fair use provision for sampling may not always favour the interests of musicians from less powerful social groups either. I do so by reviewing public debates and academic work about borrowing and appropriation in music, and by presenting a case study of one particularly notable recent example of digital sampling and cultural borrowing: the use by the international dance-pop superstar, Moby, of samples of African-American musicians on his album Play. Because these samples were drawn from recordings made by the archivist and collector Alan Lomax, this also raises issues germane to recent debates about the role of ethnomusicology and other scholarly activities in providing materials for cultural production.
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... 49). Hesmondhalgh (2006b) points to the "complex cultural politics around sampling that may have been submerged in the excitement accompanying the rise of sample-based rap and hip hop music" (pp. 54-55), noting that musical borrowing from the cultures of vulnerable populations is charged with questions of social and cultural power. ...
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... Instead of exploring the ways samplers have been used as music technologies, the academic literature on digital sampling has tended to focus on issues relating to authorship (Sanjek 1994), copyright (Schumacher 1995, Hesmondhalgh 2006, morality (Porcello 1991), postmodernism (Goodwin 1988), and gender/sexuality (Bradby 1993, Loza 2001. A central argument I make in this book is that it is necessary to study digital sampling within the cultural and social contexts of music making: in professional studios, home studios, concert stages, performance spaces, and other sites of musical production. ...
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