I'm currently reading the excellent book Freedom of Expression: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity by Kembrew McLeod. The overarching theme is how current copyright law has been taken over by corporate types and instead of promoting the creation of new work, stifles it. Here's an excerpt about what happened to the Verve when they sampled 5 notes from a Rolling Stones song:
The Verve, a popular British band that scored a major worldwide hit in 1997 with “Bittersweet Symphony.” The Verve negotiated a license to use a five-note sample from an orchestral version of one of the Rolling Stones’ lesser hits, “The Last Time,” and received clearance from Decca Records. After “Bittersweet Symphony” became a hit single, the group was sued by former Stones manager Allen Klein (who owns the copyrights to the band’s pre-1970 songs because of aggressive business practices). He claimed the Verve broke the agreement when they supposedly used a larger portion than was covered in the license, something the group vehemently disputed.

The Verve layered nearly fifty tracks of instrumentation, including novel string arrangements, to create a distinctly new song. In fact, the song’s signature swirling orchestral melody was recorded and arranged by the Verve; the sample from the instrumental record is largely buried under other tracks in the chorus. The band eventually settled out of court and handed over 100 percent of their songwriting royalties because it seemed cheaper than fighting for a legal ruling that might not end in their favor. As if things couldn’t have gotten worse, they were then sued by another old Rolling Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham. Klein went after the Verve for infringing on the songwriting copyright, which he owned, but Oldham possessed the copyright on the sampled sound recording. They totally lost everything.

Not only couldn’t the Verve earn money from their biggest hit, they were stripped of control of their song. For instance, after the group refused Nike’s request to use “Bittersweet Symphony” in an ad, the shoe manufacturer aired the song after it purchased a license from Allen Klein. “The last thing in the world I wanted was for one of my songs to be used in a commercial,” the despondent lead vocalist Richard Ashcroft said. “I’m still sick about it.” In one final kick in the groin, “Bittersweet Symphony” was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Song category, which honors songwriters. Because the unfavorable settlement transferred the Verve’s copyright and songwriting credit to Klein and the Rolling Stones, the Grammy nomination went to “Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.” Ashcroft quipped that it was “the best song Jagger and Richards have written in twenty years.” He then suffered from a nervous breakdown and the group broke up.

By the way, Freedom of Expression is licensed under a Creative Commons License and is available online.

What a sorry state of affairs for the Verve. Not only were they kicked after they were taken down, twice, to top it all off, something that has bothered me for a long time only because I can't stand the person responsible - Rush Limbaugh has been using the song as the unoffical soundtrack to his maniacal misinformation and subliminal brainwashing broadcasts as if it were his personal anthem. Can't stand that hypocritical loser-scum bag. Is his show required to pay any royalties or licensing fees to continually play snippets of that song at will or does Broadcast-One have enough clout to be able to do what it wants and ask permission later? I would be so pissed if I were Ashcroft. He should get in touch with NEGATIVLAND to mount a counter attack to expose these pop music pirates for the parasitic scum they are. I myself being a non-professional musician will continue to sample everything I can see and hear for my own amusement until I am wealthy enough to distribute my music freely to everyone on a scale large enough to piss off enough executives resulting in a rabid frenzy of frivolous litigation and public humiliation while I sit back and laugh at the fact that it doesn't take much money for a rich person to sample, remix, produce and distribute free music full of copyrighted material without having to even begin to try and understand fair use. Can I do that as long as I don't profit from it? I would release the whole catalog of BMI, Elektra, WB and others on my own label for free. You could print advertising on the packaging and sell the ad space to pay for the venture. If you are interested in hearing more ideas like this, email me. [email protected] I'm a genius. -eric

Posted by eric gauswell on July 10, 2005 at 12:27 PM EDT #

the whole verve thing is disgusting to the max. why didnt mick & keith stand up for them? i can see the executives cashing in, but mick & keith obviously went along with it... makes you sick in the stomach, indeed!

Posted by T on May 15, 2007 at 01:22 PM EDT #

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