Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

As I get more and more into Ableton Live I am beginning to feel the pain of being a digital musician these days. As a former DJ, I have lots of my favorite music in my head organized by what parts of what songs go well with others. Suddenly, I realize that what I can get away with on a turntable in a nightclub is a no-no when producing music. Record companies in the US have been winning cases against people who sample music. I can buy loops, use Creative Commons content and make my own sounds to use in the music, but what I am unable to do is use the melody, drum track or riff from my DJ days to invoke images and memories we associate with some of the classic songs. It's as if my several years of being a DJ and learning the beats has to be erased from my memory when thinking about how to express myself.

Luckily, there is more and more music with Creative Commons licenses, but it really feels like we're having to start from scratch, building a culture of music creation that encourages sharing and sampling the way we used to do it when samplers and sequencers entered the scene. Artists... please think about using the Creative Commons sampling license when you publish music so that you don't become an island sheltered from the creativity of future artists and DJs.


As an independent musician and internet broadcaster, I have to produce the whole bunch of musical stuff from scratch for publishing because of copyright matters, and it sometimes makes me discouraged or less motivated.
Sometimes I feel like I am a lonely soldier fighting by myself.

By the way, I have recently made a presentation on podcasting at Zope Weekend 5.
Zope is an open-source content management system and I use it for updating my podcast rss automatically.
At the time, I mentioned Creative Commons license like you may be able to embed Creative Commons license in your rss feed with Zope and it may encourage new types of communication.

However, honestly, I'm not really sure if something nice will happen if I publish my stuff with Creative Commons. Maybe I should learn more about Creative Commons.

The powerpoint file, video files, audio files and some links relevant to my presentation can be found at:


Yep, I've been predicting this for a while - that the future of culture will be counter to the mainstream and what has gone before. This new counter-culture will have to start from scratch, but I predict will soon (within 10 year) become the dominant cultural force on the planet for LOTS of very practical and economic reasons. Please see my article:

Counter Culture 2.0

Presentations on Creative Commons licenses should be held at electronic music festivals, ie. the Sonar festival in Barcelona (, where a lot of musicians meet each other. I will be there (as a guest) and maybe I should talk to a lot of people there (or spread CC flyers?), if there is nobody else talking on CC there...

There is a simple and obvious solution to the copyright problem you cite, it always astonishes me that nobody thinks of it: compose and perform your own original music.

I don't think a desire to express oneself allows a person to profit from someone elses work. The reasons those songs are in your head is that someone paid for them to be there, and the reason you want to use them is you know that people already know them and are more easy to market. in these times when anyone can make music and be a music publisher let's reward people who actually innovate instead of stealing from them. Licence or buy the samples or create your own.

Sample "horror" stories here:

I agree in sentiment with the above posters. Between the lines of copyright is the idea that creating original content is difficult, copying the work of another is not so difficult. Being an artist is difficult; it is difficult financially and psychologically. To invent--to create something original is valuable and society encourages it through copyright law. It seems to be encouraging you. Rather than ripping tacks from 80's tunes you might actually have to be creative if you want to be a successful artist. Once you have gone through the process maybe you will find a new respect for copyright. To be sure, derivative work has a place and can be interesting, but I don't see why we need to take away the control a creator now has over his/ her artwork to allow anyone to use it as a creative crutch without their permission.

I disagree. When I was a DJ, I received hundreds of records every month from the record companies asking me to promote their records. I mixed them, made tapes and talked about the tracks I liked. I reported my favorite sounds on the Rockpool music charts. When I "broke" a song the bands loved it. My mixing and sharing music as a DJ was how these bands became popular. Seriously, my answering machine was full of messages from promoters asking me to put a song on a tape or to play it more. Sure, the bands were creative, but the DJ and the people making mixed tapes were just as much about making something popular as the musicians. We were literally promoting them for free. If we were media, they would have to pay advertising. Furthermore, most of these songs sampled each other extensively. You would get a hit song, like "Pump Up The Volume" which was full of samples from other songs. Then people would take "Pump up the Volume" as it was getting old, and make derviatives, remixes or must use samples and revive parts of it again. Especially in dance music, each song is often not "unique". It is apart of a massive collage that becomes a genre such as techno industrial music. I'm sure most musicians whose tracks are in my head would have no problem being sampled by me and having their track revived and they themselves have probably heavily sampled others without permission.

The other problem is that even IF I wanted to pay them, it would be almost impossible. When you find a sample, it's usually a sample of someone else. Most of the record companies I like are no longer around and the bands are gone too. How would I find out how to license the sample of the phrase "this is a test" that I have on a Coldcut test press on vinyl with no label?

You can't look at digial music track as creating single unique pieces of work. They are all built on sounds and arrangements from the past. That's just how the dancefloor works. By disabling this ability, you've destroyed a whole genre of music.

One more thing... If I sampled and particularly if I were able to describe what I sampled, it could revive songs that have died and are unlikely to be revived. Also, most of the tracks from the 80's would not thrive in this market unless they were remixed, edited or sampled. The beats just don't fit on the dancefloor anymore. Clearly, a record company that no longer exists or a band which no longer exists is not going to pay for their music to be remixed and revived. On the other hand, if they DID exist, and I were the record label, I would love for samples from a dead song to spread like a virus. I've seen old records suddenly become in demand because someone samples something from it an all the DJs want the original. Again, my point is that when you think about how songs are promoted and become popular, you realize how important it is to allow the music to travel beyond the boundary of a particular track. I will add this I'm talking about club music, not "I'm stuffing this down your throat" mass media promoted music.

Mixing ingredients is a value added activity - making salad adds value to the seperate ingredients of lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. That is what a cook does - and sure some cooks will promote otherwise unknown ingredients by incorporating them in some imaginative new dish. I can not imagine a cook saying that he has a right to steal the ingredients and not pay his ingredient suppliers just because his activity was one stage further on the value chain.......

But - I do have more sympathy with your point this time, Joi in regard to encouraging artists to use CC but I still do not think that gives the DJ the right to use a work that the artist without the artist's permission through CC or otherwise.

This is an interesting metaphor, IP. So, lets say the "ingredient" is the sample of a train whistle. A particular train whistle. It's likely that the artists didn't own the train that the whistle came from. But it was the particular way she used the sound in a particular track that made it interesting. If I then take the sample of that whistle, it's more similar to me stealing part of a recipe than it is stealing the actual food to make my dish. The samples I'm talking about our sounds and sometimes a combination of notes, not whole songs. These samples are themselves built on sounds and samples that the producer of the orginal track collected. Yes, SOME of the sounds are played directly, but most of the sounds are just available sounds that are massaged, edited and rearranged. And it's not about being futher on the value change. Digital musicians are generally all part of the same web of value, sampling each other passing content back and forth. At least that's how it worked until people started getting sued for sampling and is still how it works in the "underground"...

IP re comment # 10: Yes. Legally speaking currently a DJ does not have the right to use music without permission. In the past that was not the case. Please note that how we ended up with this strong anti-sampling regime is not usually from the artists, but rather from the record companies that tried to make money suing other record labels for samples that were used. I know I'm repeating myself, but most artists in the electronic music genre believe in the idea of sampling and being sampled.

So back to the point of my original post. I think artists who don't mind being sampled need to make it more clear so that the record companies don't stomp on people in their behalf and to allow a new pool of music to emerge which is more sharing oriented.

One of these days, we should meet. I will do the cooking and you can provide the music ;-)

IP, that's a deal.

Watch out, he'll steal your vegetables!

Joi, I think you've got few options here before CC becomes more common:

1. Do like the Beastie Boys and Chemical Brothers and put up your own sample clearing department. There is one in all major record companies too, and it's their work to track the original publisher, make a deal and pay for the use. It takes some time and cost some money, but you got both, right ? :)

2. Do the bastard: as a DJ you must have heard hundreds of those
"bastard pop" or unauthorized remixes on white labels and CD-R:s that
are released under pseudonyme or anonymously. Most of the people in the scene have a clue who is behind each one of them, but as no one is making any noticable profit, no one really cares.

3. Do the shamppoo -commercial: In western countries only the melody and chords (and of course the recondring it self) are under copyright, so if you do "sound-alike" version, you can use similar sounds, just the same rhytm, just alter the melody j a bit - and dadaa! you've got a L'Oreal commercial sound alike track. This is actually quite a fun as a hobby to sometime try to hear and find out dirrerent programming and sound engineering techniques and test new equipment to do funny "Rammstein" or "Madonna" etc. track sound alike versions.

Ofcourse there are sides in this strict copyright control. Good musician friend of mine just spent 2 mothns in Burma as a guest of local art community NICA. He reported lots of discussion that lack of copyright concept and control combined with modern production tools has had a totally degerating effect on Burma's and Vietnamese music scene.

degenerating effect that is :)

Interesting discussion.

2 things come to mind that I'd like to drop into the discussion. One is that using samples clearly makes things easier for the sampler. That's value gained, and I think it's something that the creator should be able to bargain for. I think sampling is great, but also that when the samples have independent originality, their creators should have a right to be compensated, if they so desire... But right now that's sometimes very expensive.

That brings me to my second point. I think that basically a system of copyright that doesn't require registration is too inefficient. There's nothing unfair about putting conditions on copyright protection, and it would help to solve all sorts of problems. We got rid of it basically to join the Berne Convention and harmonize copyright law, but I think it may have been a big mistake.

What we really need is somewhere where a person like Joichi can go and find the author of a song in a big database, and if it's not listed, he should be at _least_ presumed free to use it. If it is listed, there should be an easy way to negotiate a usage license online, with various options.

One of those options should also be a contingency fee, which I haven't heard people talking about, and I don't think creative commons offers at the moment. There should be the option to set a royalty fee as a percentage of all proceeds related to the derivative work, or something similar. That would promote commercial uses as well as non-commercial creations...

It's much more easier to list or tag those copyright owner who want to share (that's how CC works, right?).

There are for example so much thing coming and influencing our musical culture from 3rd world countries and folk music scene that are just starting to get a hang of this information culture that we have so used to. Is everything coming outside western countries free material to exploit if not "listed" :)

Here is a nice thought of a Sample Clearance Fund

Instructions how to clear a sample by Universal

Contract for doing it

One of the things about sampling as a part of musical forms is that, IMO, it is the inevitable result of the kinds of electronic devices we've had since tape recorders. (Of course, historically, as soon as there were recordings and tape recorders such that there could be music based on samples, e.g., certainly by the early 1950s, composers started using samples in their music.)

I got my first tape recorder as a little kid in the 1970s, and I started making my kid-version of mashups (Peter Framton meets Peter and the Wolf, etc.). What I notice about little the kids today I'm fortunate to be around is that they are surrounded by toys that let them push puttons and trigger samples--they are basically little mashup machines filled with nursery rhymes and, noticably, lots of copyrighted tunes owned by companies like Disney that are into toys.

So, we've been and are raising kids to sample--it's "fun to play" with these toys. But, our copyright laws then go on to prohibit and even try to take back the results of playing music in this way.

Joi, Welcome to the problem that has faced everyone else for the last 20 years. From my perspective though you are approaching this with a "typical" DJ attitude that you are accustomed to getting everything for free and now you seem surprised that some of what you want has a price tag attached.

Fortunately for everyone making electronic music, it is now a whole lot easier to do what you want to do legally than it was 10 years ago. There is a whole industry devoted to selling sample CDs of loops, beats, hits and FX; chances are that almost any sound you remember has been added to one of these libraries. Many of the libraries are licenced so that you can use the samples in your own commercial work as well. Google around or go down to the Yamaha musical instruments store on Dogenzaka in Shibuya and check out some of what is available. Many of the disks are setup in CD jukeboxes so you can hear the contents of a disk before you drop your hard earned Yen. The Bic Camera in Yurakucho has an OK selection as well on the 5th floor around the Apple area. There is also a studio/store called Kaeru Cafe here in Tokyo that specializes in original sampling CDs. They also have most of their content available to preview before purchasing.

One caution before purchasing any sampling CD: make sure that the volume you want is in a format compattible with your music software. Sounds formattted specifically for Akai samplers or as Reason Refills (or what have you) may not import easily (or at all) into your software.

All this doesnt solve the "moral"/legal problems you mention, and I'm not making light of them at all, just offering up something that has worked well for me.

What bugs me about the sampling restrictions is that it removes the sampler's ability to provide commentary about or pay homage to previous musical work.

The reason that most people sample is not because "someone did it better" or "it's easier than creating real music." Nor is it done to "make the music more easier to market," which is an insult to both the sampled song and the new song. To say that a one, two or even five second sample will make or break a record's popularity is nonsense. Songs are successful because of their entire composition, not five specific notes.

Musicians sample music because it takes people to a specific place and time that the DJ cannot otherwise evoke. If I were to sample, say, Bauhaus' Bella Legosi's Dead, I may just be doing it because I like the chord progression. But in that case I can just use GarageBand and whip out a similar sounding riff in seconds. No, I'm using that specific sample because it is *meaningful* to me and the listeners.

I suggest checking out, which has a 10-minute work-in-progress of an awesome documentary about the sample culture.

btw, check out the new article: Remixing Culture: An Interview with Lawrence Lessig on the O'Reilly Network.

Chris, I'm not surprised that there is a price tag attached for some stuff, but I would bet that most of that money just goes to the cost of collecting, clearing an organizing the loops. If they are actually from the tracks I'm thinking about I bet the artists are not getting paid much if anything. I don't really feel like going to some jukebox in Shibuya to listen to samples and buy whole CDs when the money probably goes to the store, the jukebox, the packaging and the rights organization when I have everything here. Are there some good online sites that sell loops? I guess I should Google around.

Anyway, I suppose there isn't much that can be done about stuff from the past, but in the future, tagging your music with a sampling license and publishing it online should mitigate the necessity of these sorting organizations. That is if you don't mind being sampled. If you don't want ot be sampled or believe that there is real money in selling samples, I have nothing against you setting your license and business up this way, but my guess is the marketing value of being sampled exceeds the sample sales revenue opportunities.

Joi, of course there are costs involved in packaging, clearing and selling collections. You are essentially paying an editorial fee plus an indemnity or clearance fee. I find that to be quite valuable. I pointed out the jukebox listening stations to show that there are fair retail practices going on in this market. Anyways that Yamaha store is the best musical instrument store I've found in Tokyo and its a heck of a lot of fun to visit and play with all the toys.

Some collections are shovelware and thats why I like to be able to preview before I drop my Yen. Some of the collections are original material and in that case you are supporting the studio musicians who performed the works by helping to keep this particular ecology going. Sometimes the collections are "re-performances" of music people want to sample, in this case you get rights clearances as well as supporting the studio musicians. Collections of straight samples probably dont pay much to the original musicians, but then again, its a bit more than if you just lifted the samples yourself without any clearance. BTW if you object to studio musicans and "works for hire" for some moral reason, let me say that I've known lots of musicians who are happy to do studio works for hire because it is reliable paying work.

I know that sells both collections and in certain cases individual loops, is another good vendor, is another that comes to mind. some keywords for your googling would be "apple loops" "acid loops" "reason refill". There are lots of free loop sites out there, but from what I've found most of em are worth exactly what you paid for and with some of em its hard to tell what the terms of use are or in some cases I suspect people are posting collections they dont have any rights to distribute to begin with.

If you like the old P-Funk sound, look for George Clinton's "Sample Some of Dis, Sample Some of DAT" CD series on amazon. George Clinton was the first of the much sampled musicians to offer up his work under very reasonable terms of use.

I'm not sure I follow your logic entirely on this whole topic. Obviously it is a "good thing" that the CC is offering new ways for musicians to license their work (I've made my recent music available under CC license), but it seems to me like you want free-no-pay access to any music for sampling. I'm well aware of the Lessig arguments and I accept that the current legal structure is a mess, and that a new system is needed. I do have a bone to pick with people who expect to use/profit from any of my work without compensation/attribution/permission though and I'm not surprised when other creators feel the same way. If I'm reading too much into your comments I appologize.

I don't have a problem with professional musician making money. I just think that many don't mind sampling. If you mind, that's fine. Just put the appropriate copyright.

Thanks for the info. I will visit the Yamaha shop. I also, don't mind paying for the music and loops, it's really more the convenience and the ability to easily express that I'm looking for here.

You really have to wonder how much this issue is costing culture. If we applied the same draconian standards to academics you wouldn't be able to write a coherent paper if you had to clear all your "samples (citations)". Taking it back to standards of "fair use" would be a great bonus for culture and creativity especially with all the digital tools now available. Or how about blogs with all these quotes and links?

I don't know if the crowd here is familiar with DJ Danger Mouse's mash up of the Beatles' White Album with Jay-Z's voice track from his final Black Album but that Danger Mouse production was one of the most creative albums to come out that year. He basically cut up music tracks from one Beatles album and combined it with Jay-z to a fantastic effect. I definitely recommend a listen if want to see the possibilities offered by allowing more copyright freedom. Of course, the DJ got a lawsuit for releasing it. Still, this whole thing came about because Jay-Z releasind his vocal tracks for wannabe DJs around the world to create their original version. It also lead to his chart-topping collaboration with Linkin Park so it was definitely a good move.

On the hip-hop scene a lot of artists are now turning to mixtapes (semi-sanctioned bootlegs) to generate their own buzz. 50 Cent is probably the best example of an artist that generated his own hype by releasing a slew of mixtapes, jacking entire beats from popular songs of the time (like LL Cool J) and laying his own (more humorous vocals) on it. In fact, 50 cent still releases a lot of material on mixtapes.

This issue is also keeping a lot of our favorite TV shows off of DVD too. It's amazing what such short-sighted greed can do.

Copyrights Keep TV Shows off DVD,1412,66696,00.html

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