“OK, I’M READY TO GO PLAY / I GOT THE MACHETE FROM O.J. / I’M READY TO MAKE EVERYONE’S THROAT ACHE!” screams Eminem in the controversial hit “Kill You” from his 2000 album “The Marshall Mathers LP”. The unsettling song about rape and murder didn’t make the headlines just for its controversial content—the beats for this song were reportedly stolen from French composer Jacques Loussier. Upon listening to “Kill You” and “Pulsion,” the original piece from which “Kill You” was said to have stolen the beat, it is clear why Loussier immediately began to demand explanation after his son (familiar with his work) showed him Eminem’s new hit. Below are links to a YouTube video of each song so that you can listen for yourself and hear the similarities in the background:
Jacques Loussier’s “Pulsion
Eminem’s “Kill You”
After listening to both songs, one cannot argue that Loussier had a perfectly reasonable explanation for suing Eminem and his record label for $10 million—the songs (lyrics aside) sound almost exactly the same.
Money aside, however, let us now consider the ‘copyright’ and ‘copywrong’ aspects of the case at hand. Branching off of some of the ideas presented in Lessig’s The Future of Ideas, the main question at hand is not one of who should control the copyright to this music—it’s whether the music ought to be controlled at all. Apple doesn’t seem to think so, as Lessig points out, with its instructions to “Rip, mix, and burn” music that is ‘yours’ because it’s ‘your’ music and you can do what you want with it. Of course, this advertisement technique was aimed at consumers of Apple products who would use the machines to “rip, mix, and burn” music for personal use—not to international rap stars like Eminem who could potentially remix a song and sell it for millions of dollars. What does this mean for Eminem’s “Kill You”? Does this indicate that Eminem can use any beat that he hears if he likes it, re-create it and add lyrics, and then distribute it in whatever means he chooses to?
In my opinion, no. Using samples of public domain songs or retrieving permissions to use pieces of existing copyrighted songs in order to spark the innovation of something new and consumable is one thing. Kant would probably approve of this practice—after all, he suggested that most people were nonages, like white sheep of a herd, and only a few truly break free from the herd and exercise true innovation; these are supposedly the people who will lead to the advancement of society for the greater good, right? After listening to Eminem’s “Kill You,” there doesn’t seem to be any innovation for the greater good occurring. In fact, the lyrics suggest a retreat into a time when women were seen only as objects and nothing more. Is the use of someone else’s instrumentals for the purpose of promoting the values of rape and murder supposed to be validated in court and in society in general? Absolutely not.
As a final note, I would like to point out that, although I agree that copyright infringement was correctly used in the Loussier case, I am not a proponent of all of the strict copyright laws that are currently in place. As Milton said in Areopagitica in regards to the restriction of reprinting, “It will be primely to the discouragement of all learning, and the stop of truth…hindering and cropping the discovery that might bee yet further made.” If Shakespeare’s plays had never been reprinted for the use of other theater companies, for example, where would the art of drama be today?
Enforcement of copyright infringement laws is often necessary—it prevents the unregulated use of the fruit of one’s originality and innovation for the purpose of selling product and making bank, as in the Loussier case against Eminem. However, society must be wary of the over-restriction of the reproduction and use of certain content. Prevention from using certain resources may inhibit the imagination and revolution that will lead our generation through the years to come.
Links to the articles mentioned in this post will be posted in the comments section below.