Today’s sad news of the passing of Adam Yauch, the Beastie Boy’s MCA, caused us to take a moment to reflect on the impact that the Beastie Boys, and their seminal record Paul’s Boutique, had on remix culture.
Released in 1989, Paul’s Boutique reportedly contains somewhere between 100 and 300 samples. In fact, one of the engineers who worked on the record estimated that “95% of the sounds” on Paul’s Boutique came from samples. Paul’s Boutique went on to garner both critical acclaim and commercial success, and it’s no wonder. Along with records by De La Soul and Public Enemy, it broke new ground in remixing all kinds of samples and laid the groundwork for many of today’s popular artists, such as Girl Talk.
We think it’s pretty clear that the samples the Beastie Boys used in Paul’s Boutique and that Girl Talk now uses in his records are classic examples of fair use. Unfortunately, many artists these days are nonetheless under pressure to pay licensing fees for similar uses. Despite the fact that most cases rightfully find that sampling is not copyright infringement, the mere threat of a lawsuit (and the specter of statutory damages) is enough to intimidate musicians and labels alike. This cottage market of sample licensing stands in the way of creating the next Paul's Boutique – a sad comment on MCA's legacy.
The time to come up with a new, effective licensing scheme is long overdue. Young artists should be encouraged to remix and create in all the exciting new ways that technology allows, not sidelined by expensive licensing battles. Solving this problem would go a long way in that direction and be a fitting tribute to MCA, the Beastie Boys, and the fantastic remix culture they helped foster.