Copyright Criminals, the acclaimed documentary that charts the history of sampling in hip-hop and its modern clashes with outdated copyright law, will air on PBS’ Emmy Award-winning series “Independent Lens” the week of Nov. 29 (check local listings).
The film features in-depth interviews with Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Hank Shocklee, De La Soul, funk pioneer George Clinton, James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” Clyde Stubblefield, producer Steve Albini and many others.
Filmmakers Benjamin Franzen and Kembrew McLeod showcase not only hip-hop sampling’s pioneering artists, but also those whose work has been sampled thoroughly. Ultimately, they ask how should we fix our copyright laws to both encourage creativity with 21st century tools and still ensure that “original” creators get paid for their work?
The broadcast comes as creative technology advances on a near-weekly basis. When the last copyright law was passed in 1998, only 26 percent of homes had Internet access. Today, young people can film, soundtrack, edit and distribute movies globally, all from their mobile phones.
Meanwhile, artists like Girl Talk are shining bright lights on issues of copyright and creativity. Girl Talk’s new album, All Day, released for free Nov. 15, includes more than 350 samples.
Copyright Criminals’ innovative visuals include video remixes by Eclectic Method that illustrate for the viewer precisely what snippets of sound they’re hearing in dense sampling collages.
The film, which Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield called “amazing,” was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. USA Today called Copyright Criminals “a compelling and insightful documentary illuminating both sides of a hotly debated issue.”
Director and producer Benjamin Franzen is the owner of the Atlanta-based production company Changing Images. Executive producer and writer Kembrew McLeod is an associate professor of communications studies at the University of Iowa, and author of Freedom of Expression®: Resistance and Repression in the Age of Intellectual Property, among other books.