Messin’ with the media

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By Matthew McKinnon

The warring factions of art and business collided at Plunderpalooza, a three-day celebration of “cultural appropriation.”

Idiosyntactix, a Toronto collective of artists and techies, organized a debate on the use of sampling in music.

The discussion didn’t concern itself with sanctioned samples but focused on the beats and lyrics that are lifted without the creator’s permission.

The debate’s stars were David Basskin, president of the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency, and Mark Hosler of San Fransico noise band Negativland.

Basskin is sampling’s traffic cop, making sure nobody samples without paying up. Hosler is the guy going 100 miles per hour on the wrong side of the road.

For the past 17 years, Negativland has been combining original noises with existing sounds — pissing off a lot of business types in the process.

Hosler is well respected in some circles: David Bowie up for his half-hour long set when Plunderpalooza hit the stage last Friday night at a packed Lee’s Palace.

Hosler has been on a crusade to change copyright laws since 1991, when Island Records sued Negativland for their U2 album, a spoof of Bono and the lads. Negativland’s latest album Dispepsi, a cut-and-paste collage of Pepsi ads blended with white noise, could land the band in court again.

Hosler believes in making sampling without permission legal.

“Copyright laws are based on 100-year-old ideas. They need to be abolished,” Hosler says.

Basskin, on the other hand, argues for the need to respect a sample’s original author.

“(Sampling) is not a question of freedom of speech. Why should that override the rights of the creator? Without creators, we have no works. The fundamental reason for copyright is to protect the author,” Basskin says.

Basskin also has a fair share of contradictions. He says he is looking out for the little guy and is quick to point out that he’s been a musician for 35 years. “Music is the most important thing in the world after food, family and shelter,” he says. “If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be in this business. I’m not some boogieman here to say that creativity should be stifled.”

Hosler argues that if Basskin has his way, a vital form of criticism may die; appropriation is one of satire’s  most powerful tools.

After all, what better way to critique someone than using their own words against them?


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