Copyright in electronic dance music

// Posted by on 03/09/2014 (4:29 PM)

Throughout our discussion on Tuesday about copyright I couldn’t help but think about how copyright affects electronic dance music artists today.  Like Girl Talk, most EDM artists have used samples and pre-recorded sounds from other artists in their songs.  Not only this, but they also play each other’s and other artist’s songs at their shows.  This industry filled me with many questions regarding copyright.  How do they go about producing a new song?  Do they get permission with each track?  What about when they play songs at their shows?  With EDM becoming a major music industry now, I can’t imagine every artist taking their chances like Girl Talk did by not getting the rights to each song.  So, how is copyright affecting this industry?


After searching for different articles, I came to the consensus that the artists will for the most part pay to clear the track they want to use and then in the future a certain percentage for royalties.  Artists may also buy a “sample library” which provides them with a collection of sounds and the licenses to these sounds.  This is easy for an established artist to cover as expenses however for many up and coming artists in the industry these payments may deter them and they often choose to release tracks without the clearance for those tracks.  This is what Girl Talk seemed to do in the video we watched–release songs with different samples and hope nothing would come from it.  Scott MacDonald outlines in his article that fair use does not apply very much to cases with sampling and remixing, although it is the only defense for a up and coming producer.  A producer could claim that they are not using a sampling for commercial use and that they distorted the sample enough to make it a new sound.  As for playing songs at a show, clubs often will have a blanket licensing payment which makes DJs able to play whatever songs they want.  This then allows DJs to be more creative with their samples at clubs because they won’t have to worry about copyright.


With electronic dance music on the rise these copyright laws are definitely being violated more and more by new artists who can’t afford to pay to clear a song.  Although this is risky we saw how with Girl Talk he was never punished for doing so.  The biggest DJ names out there clearly have the funds to pay for copyright for all their hits that come from sampling other’s work, however it leaves little opportunity for new artists trying to make a name for themselves.  This genre also creates a fuzzy line with artists remixing each others work everyday and making music that is very similar.


Just recently there was a case between two DJs in which Deadmau5 claimed that Wildstylez sampled the Deadmau5 song ‘Some Chords” in his new track.  Using the same chords across the two different genres of each artist, Deadmau5 proved to be correct and the other DJ took down his work.  There was a similar case where and chris brown collaborated on a song that they ripped from two relatively unknown producers.   This is happening more and more in the electronic dance culture  due to the nature of the industry.  I’m just wondering if anything will be done within the industry to make these gray areas clearer, or licensing easier or cheaper with royalties growing once a song is profitable.

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Deirdre said...

You bring up an interesting point in this post. I, too, often wonder why EDM artists are able to collaborate so often and share and play each other’s music. Electronic music revolves a lot around “remixing” and combining musical tracks, so yes there are probably a lot of gray areas that make it hard to determine what is and isn’t a violation of copyright laws. Thats why those “blanket” licenses exist for DJs and why a lot of artists of electronic music are lax about allowing other artists to use their music. It seems like it is universally agreed upon that people who get involved in electronic music must first understand that collaboration and sharing is almost inevitable.
I sometimes hear about copyright or sampling controversy in this industry but it almost always seems to work itself out after the music is tweaked to be somewhat original. I agree that the nature of the EDM industry and costs for using other artists music make it hard for new artists to establish themselves, but maybe that’s a good thing. Clearly this genre isn’t inspiring much originality, and new artists inability to compile and use others’ music might change this.

// 03/10/2014 at 1:07 pm

Cora said...

In our current society, artists are becoming increasingly likely to use samples from fellow musicians. Whether it is a couple of cords or a section of vocals, it seems virtually impossible to slip under the radar. What I find most ironic is how the music industries claim that penalties for copyright are to protect their artists. In actuality, it is the major music industries who are profiting off of copyright legality cases. Not only do they make money of off suing “violators” but they have the time and money to hire the best representation possible. The line between fair use and copyright laws is becoming more and more blurred. Although the law is largely on the side of the major music labels, that does not necessarily make their cause justified. As lawyer Lawrence Lessig asserted in “RiP!: A Remix Manifesto,” these copyright laws need to be reevaluated given the ever0changing circumstance in our current society. The internet has yielded a whole new culture of music— mashups, covers, etc.— that are only propelled like networks such as youtube, soundcloud, and youtube. Individuals are going to borrow from one another without even realizing it. Sounds and lyrics are so readily accessible, it seems almost impossible to scrutinize each individual who crosses an already blurry line. Music is something that inspires people and often leads them to create pieces of their own. People work off of one another- its a form of expression and communication. It seems as though individuals’ inspiration and creativity are what are ultimately diminished, as they are limited and sometimes threatened before they ever really get to begin.

// 03/14/2014 at 7:00 pm

Rachel said...

I actually have some friends in the industry, and for the most part, you’re right. Especially for bigger names, they’ll either pay for the right to use the song or, if they happen to be personal contacts, they’ll get written permission from the original creator to use it.

However, for a lot of smaller acts, it just comes down to whether or not they get flagged. A lot of soundcloud mixes, for example, don’t have the rights to use a lot of the songs they’ve used — but copyright only becomes an issue if it gets flagged and the person/company with the rights to the song decide to pursue it, which is sometimes not the case.

Either way, EDM, and especially mashups, are interesting case studies in copyright, and I’m glad someone decided to talk about it. Go you!

// 03/17/2014 at 2:38 pm

Claire said...

Your post posed the question, yet again about copyright and how it hampers creativity. The EDM culture is about create a new and distinct voice out of past creative work. When reading past articles about the mash-up culture the point that stuck out the most for me is how it the integration of others work seems so ingrained in music culture. This is the natural progression that music is suppose take it would only make sense that music producers of the time are evolving and attempting to give their audience what they want. In this past if this were stopped would we have had the great jazz legends of the time as well as some of the best rereleases of our time? While this protects well-established artists it really increase the barriers of entry into the EDM music industry. However well established artists such as deadmau5 should also look to new emerging artists and not nitpick for copyright infringements. The example you raise about the use of deadmau5’s chord in a new artists song, also raises questions such as is deadmau5’s just keeping up with the times of copyright protection and how would it affect an artist if they simply let their work be free to public domain. The question also is raised of how these artists would make their money and if they would get tossed to the wayside by new up and coming artists would could mix their music better than they could make it.

// 03/17/2014 at 11:20 pm