Copyright Criminals examines the creative and commercial value of
musical sampling, including the related debates over artistic
expression, copyright law, and (of course) money.
This documentary traces the rise of hip-hop from the urban streets of
New York to its current status as a multibillion-dollar industry. For
more than thirty years, innovative hip-hop performers and producers
have been re-using portions of previously recorded music in new,
otherwise original compositions. When lawyers and record companies got
involved, what was once referred to as a “borrowed melody” became a
“copyright infringement.”The film showcases many of hip-hop music’s
founding figures like Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Digital
Underground—while also featuring emerging hip-hop artists from record
labels Definitive Jux, Rhymesayers, Strange Famous, Ninja Tune, and more.
It also provides an in-depth look at artists who have been sampled,
such as Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown’s drummer and the world’s most
sampled musician), as well as commentary by another highly sampled
musician, funk legend George Clinton.As artists find ever more
inventive ways to insert old influences into new material, this
documentary asks a critical question, on behalf of an entire creative
community: Can you own a sound?