Gold Digging “Gold Digger”

Kanye West’s creative use of sampling in his beats gives him an edge on other producers in the hip hop game and sets his style apart from the rest. Recently, however, his sampling has earned him a $150,000 lawsuit for copyright infringement, contributory infringement and violating the racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations act.1 Based on the grounds of violating these laws, in a nutshell, the plaintiffs claim that Kanye West, his music label and their affiliates are guilty of purposefully (or accidentally) and repeatedly stealing copyrighted work changing it, and reusing it for their own profits without the consent of the copyright holder.2 Thus, they dub Kanye West and Rock-a-Feller Records a racketeering criminal organization. The song in question is Kanye West’s 2005 chart topper “Gold Digger”. During the chorus of this song Kanye sings “get down girl, go head get down (get down)”. The plaintiffs, children of the late David Pryor of the band Thunder & Lightning, are suing because they claim that the echo of the second “get down” is a sample from their father’s band’s song “Bumpin’ Bus Stop”.3 I, along with the judge who will be presiding over the case don’t think that this is such a big deal. It was stated by Law360.com that “Judge O’Connell took the matter under submission on Monday, but noted at one point in the hearing, ‘There’s more than one song with words ‘get down’ in it, I’m sure.’” 4I believe that this lawsuit is just an attempt to earn a quick buck. I agree with Lessig’s statement in his book, The Future of Ideas when he says:

“Free resources have always been central to innovation, creativity, and democracy. The roads are free in the sense I mean; they give value to the businesses around them. Central Park is free in the sense I mean; it gives value to the city that it centers. A jazz musician draws freely upon the chord sequence of a popular song to create a new improvisation, which, if popular, will itself be used by others…”5

Lessig also quotes Carol Rose as he says “our view is that ‘the whole world is best managed when divided among private owners,’ 14 so we proceed as quickly as we can to divide all resources among private owners so as to better manage the world”.5 This is an example of a self-imposed, enlightenment hindering, nonage that Immanuel Kant describes in “What is Enlightenment?”.6 Kanye West is a new age producer who uses traditional elements such as drums, pianos, and claps to make a quality hip hop beat, but what defines his creative uniqueness is the fact that he also uses samples as a means to transform snippets of voices or sounds into instruments of their own. Thus, he has created his own easily recognizable style of music production. I’ll be the first to admit that outright stealing an entire stanza from a song, or even using a sentence or two is wrong, but I think it’s ridiculous that Kanye West’s fraction of a second snippet of the words “get down” from a song can be considered criminal and punished by law.  In the words of John Milton in his speech “Areopagitiga”:

“When a man writes to the world, he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him; he searches, meditats, is industrious, and likely consults and conferrs with
his judicious friends; after all which done he takes himself to be inform’d in what
he writes, as well as any that writ before him; if in this the most consummat act
of his fidelity and ripenesse, no years, no industry, no former proof of his abilities
can bring him to that state of maturity, as not to be still mistrusted and suspected,
unlesse he carry all his considerat diligence, all his midnight watchings, and expence
of Palladian oyl, to the hasty view of an unleasur’d licencer”7

I relate this to Kanye’s situation because nobody but Kanye knows how much time, effort, love and expertise he put into creating a billboard topping instrumental. Implying that Kanye owes credit and compensation for his success on that endeavor to the two-word, millisecond sample he used undermines the creative genius that it took to put those sounds together in a cohesive fashion. To the children of David Pryor I say: earn a paycheck some other way.

Sources:

  1.  http://allhiphop.com/2013/04/08/kanye-west-hit-with-ricocopyright-infringement-for-sampling-same-song-multiple-times/
  2.  http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/property/library/copyprimer.html#anchor4189398
  3.  http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/west-sued-gold-digger-sample-article-1.1311652
  4.  http://www.law360.com/articles/460605/umg-wants-kanye-west-gold-digger-copyright-suit-tossed
  5.  https://engl382fall2013.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/lessig_foi.pdf
  6.  https://engl382fall2013.wordpress.com/readings/what-is-enlightenment/
  7. https://engl382fall2013.wordpress.com/readings/areopagitica/
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One thought on “Gold Digging “Gold Digger”

  1. Daquan,

    If I wanted to be picky, I’d point out that you didn’t incorporate Kant as thoroughly as you might have, but this was really well done. Good job! Grade: Satisfactory.

    M

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