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How did the Depression-era folk-song collector Alan Lomax end up with a songwriting credit on Jay-Z’s song “Takeover”? Why doesn’t Clyde Stubblefield, the primary drummer on James Brown recordings from the late 1960s like “Funky Drummer” and “Cold Sweat,” get paid for other musicians’ frequent use of the beats he performed on those songs?

The music industry’s approach to digital sampling—incorporating snippets of existing recordings into new ones—holds the answers. Exploring the complexities and contradictions in how samples are licensed, Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola interviewed more than 100 musicians, managers, lawyers, industry professionals, journalists, and scholars.

Based on those interviews, Creative License puts digital sampling into historical, cultural, and legal context. It describes hip-hop during its sample-heavy golden age in the 1980s and early 1990s; the lawsuits that shaped U.S. copyright law on sampling; and the labyrinthine licensing process that musicians must now navigate. Observing that the same dynamics creating problems for remixers now reverberate throughout all culture industries, the authors conclude by examining ideas for reform.

By the book

Interviewees include David ByrneCee-Lo GreenGeorge ClintonDe La SoulDJ PremierDJ QbertEclectic MethodEl-PGirl TalkMatmos,Mix Master MikeNegativlandPublic EnemyRZAClyde Stubblefield,T.S. Monk.