REPLAY – The Syracuse University Symposium on Sound Sampling: a short report.

Location: Syracuse University Library, Belfer Audio Archive (222 Waverly Avenue, Syracuse, NY 13244-2010)
Date: April 9th, 2010

Text by Richard Palmer

Last month, hidden away in a corner of Manhattan was a by-invitation-only symposium entitled REPLAY about sampling and the various dilemmas artists and record labels face on both sides of the equation.  Lasting all day long, these Syracuse University-sponsored panels were not necessarily new, as just back in March SXSW had a similar panel called “Why Hasn’t the Record Industry Sued Girl Talk?,” and more recently Princeton University held held a two-day symposium entitled “Intellectual Property and the Making and Marketing of Music.”  During the REPLAY symposium four hour-long panels delved into topics such as “Legal Issues in Sampling,” “Sampling as Creative Innovation,” and other frameworks that highlight the different sides of this perpetual discussion.

Thus the debate continues to play out month after month at music industry events and universities, revolving around the continual question of whether artists should be able to sample more freely or if they are common thieves plundering the deserved royalties of more traditional musicians?  The typical formula is to bring proponents from each end of the spectrum.  On one side you have artists (or their supporters) that sample with no sense of shame, and then on the other end you have members of the music industry who defend their stance that sampling is stealing and therefore illegal.  Both sides have their arguments, logic, and emotion, and so it generally plays out like good theatre.  But it often begs the question of whether anything is being accomplished other than entertainment?

So, did REPLAY move beyond entertainment and actually provide deeper discussion?  On the surface, it ran the course of the typical music sampling debate.  The usual characters were invited and the usual arguments were presented.  But in the duration and repetition of the day there were moments of potential compromise between the polarized views.  In the concluding remarks of the first panel, one pro-sampling panel member brought up the possibility of a compulsive license for sampling.  There was not enough time to discuss the complexities, but later in the afternoon the topic gained greater momentum.  While no real agreement solidified it became more evident that the differing sides were willing to explore some type of solution.  Whether that be a clearing house, a compulsive license, or something more novel, it does give some hope.

In the end, though, REPLAY may have just been an academic exercise. If after hours of discussion only a glimmer of agreement emerges, what hope is there that a real solution might ever take root? Hopefully someone will take the next step and design an event around potential solutions rather than all the potential issues, problems, and disagreements.  REPLAY slightly pointed in that direction, but if the Princeton symposium a few weeks later was any indication, we may have to sit through countless panels before any further progress in the dialogue emerges.

Hank Shocklee (Shocklee Entertainment Co-founder, Public Enemy)
William Patry, Esq. (Senior Copyright Counsel, Google Inc., Patry on Copyright, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars)
David Wolfert (Grammy- and Emmy-nominated, composer, arranger, songwriter)
Philo T. Farnsworth (Founder, Illegal Art)
Susan Butler (Executive Editor, Music Confidential)
Loren Chodosh, Esq. (President, Loren Chodosh, P.C.)
Primus Luta (Performance artist, Editor, AvantUrb)

K. Matthew Dames (Copyright & Information Policy Adviser, Syracuse University Library)

Ulf Oesterle, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Bandier Program for Music and the Entertainment Industries
Syracuse University

About the program

Interview With William Patry: Understanding How The Copyright Debate Got Twisted