Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu identifies an emerging threat to sample-based creativity in hip hop, the "sample troll":
The rise of rap presented a golden opportunity for Bridgeport. After years of demanding fees, in 2001, Bridgeport launched nearly 500 counts of copyright infringement against more than 800 artists and labels. The company, suing in Nashville, Tenn., located every sample of [George] Clinton or other owned copyrights it could find. It took the legal position that any sampling of a sound recording, no matter how minimal or unnoticeable, is still a violation of federal law. Imagine that the copyright owner of The Lord of the Rings had sued every fantasy book or magazine that dared used the words elf, orc, or troll. That gives you an idea of the magnitude of Bridgeport's campaign.
Apparently, having absconded with George Clinton's copyrights, Bridgeport is now shaking down artists like Jay-Z. Of course, lawsuits like this also make it harder for lesser-known sample-based artists to get distribution, radio play, and CD pressing services. Well worth reading the whole article.