Another Sampling Controversy – on the Differences Between Plagiarism and Remixing

Wermut has sampled Mindflow‘s song for the C64-demo Timewaster. Listen to the original at youtube, and an excerpt of Wermut’s song Away here. It was released on 7″ by Enfant Terrible last year. I e-mailed Wermut 5 days ago without any reply, but the label has added a statement here. This case was first noticed by Zyron and Sander at 8bittoday (who designed Timewaster) informed me and contacted the label. So is this plagiarism, or…?

Timewaster is less than 20 seconds long, but loops for 3 minutes in the demo without getting boring. It’s a spacious little composition, minimalistic and ambient-ish. All of this raises questions about what constitutes a song, and what the difference is between remixing (in its broad sense) and plagiarizing – a topic that both copyright-mongers and remix-idealists avoid all too often.

Looking at the length, timbral diversity, and the amounts of notes, it could be argued that Timewaster is less of a song, compared to (dominant) norms. That means that it is not elaborate or explicit enough – if something more was added, it would be a more substantial song. There is nothing objective about this statement, but I think both composers and listeners can relate to the idea. In fact, Mindflow himself thinks something along this line – he told me that he doesn’t care because “it’s not really a song anyway”.

On the other hand, composers can also over-work a song. You can’t reduce music to a one-dimensional quantity – it is a question of “quality”. Nihilistic relativists would argue that everything has the same (or no) quality, while copyright presupposes some sort of  objectivistic aesthetical authority. But usually we say that quality is something subjective. So, could this subjective perception of quality affect how a remix-composer attributes its sources?

This is actually what I wanted to ask Wermut about, and I think it’s something worth asking yourself aswell. When do you think composers or other artists should credit their sources? What is relevant to credit? When do you do it yourself? Personally, I know that when I sample from “trashy” sources I tend to attribute less. (shame on me)

I guess attribution is important in separating plagiarism from remixing. According to Navas’ definition the remix is based on that the audience knows or understands the origin of a sample. Attribution is thus implicit or explicit in remixing. That leaves out decontextualized appropriations that are so common in remix culture, like what Wermut did. But it’s not a clear plagiarism either, like Laromlab.

Maybe Wermut didn’t find Timewaster to be enough of a composition to credit it. But they obviously thought it had some sort of quality. Maybe they just thought they could get away with it because it was from a C64-demo? Fact remains, without Timewaster, Away would be a very different song. Would Wermut be okay if I used 20 seconds of their music as a defining part of a song that I released on 350 seven-inches, without crediting or compensating them? Would remix-composers in general, that do non-attributed derivative works, accept that others did the same with their works?

PS. On a related matter – the Laromlab Wikipedia-entry has had a proposed deletion added to it. No proof means no truth!

5 Responses to “Another Sampling Controversy – on the Differences Between Plagiarism and Remixing”

  1. peter Says:

    Considering that laromlab no longer exists.. what better tribute to have his name spread to the wind..

  2. Neil Says:

    From the linked excerpt, the song “Away” would be nothing but some drippy vocals without the sample from Timewaster. Shame on you Wermut, shame on you.

    And to think that in the infamous case of The Verve Vs The Rolling Stones (over The Verve song “Bittersweet Symphony”), The Verve were forced to give The Stones a writing credit, despite only sampling a string phrase from The Stones’ record. Money talks eh?

    I’ve never heard of that laromlab story before now. What a tool….

  3. yonxUP Says:

    sampling is sampling.. for a producer there is really no difference in ethics in sampling a sidtune that ~1000 people in the world knows about or a $0.5 vinyl you found in the bargain-crate at your 2nd hand store… the author of a sampled piece (and the scene they belong to) will probably always feel ripped-off regardless of how much creativity the sampling artist have put into the derivative work.. the old soul cats probably consider the whole jungle movement a non-creative lame rip-off of a original break made of one of their friends while the rest of us really appreciate the style.. it all comes down to how you relate to the sampled material..

    wack ripoff anyway, i really like the original tune..

  4. chipflip Says:

    yonx, yeah that’s a relevant point. and maybe it also goes for remix-scenes. maybe folkmusicians, bluesmusicians, hiphoppers and mashuppers would also feel ripped off? i wonder if there are good examples where a subculture embraces derivative works – derivative works outside the scene, so to say.

  5. Interview With Wermut on Sampling Music « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] CHIPFLIP chipmusic and 8-bit art « Another Sampling Controversy – on the Differences Between Plagiarism and Remixing […]

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