The Girl Talk Dilemma: Can Copyright Law Accomodate New Forms of Sample-Based Music?

David Mongillo

Abstract


On Gregg Gillis’ laptop computer are thousands of files representing a vast slice of 20th and 21st century popular music.

1 His digital music collection is similar to that of many music consumers: it spans a wide variety of genres and runs from the obscure to the mainstream. But Gillis is different from most music consumers in that he uses computer software to cut his digital music files into audio snippets, or samples, and then piece them together into song collages.2 Gregg Gillis is Girl Talk, a recording artist on the Illegal Art label whose music has made yearend best music lists in Time Magazine,3 Rolling Stone,4 Blender5 and Pitchforkmedia.com.6 Girl Talk has developed a strong following throughout the United States and has toured throughout Europe and Australia.7 A PC user, he was recently featured in one of the “I’m a PC” ads for Microsoft.8 But while Girl Talk has been successful, Gillis adds almost no original musical content to his recordings. Although he often alters the speed or pitch of his samples, or loops them in a continuous pattern, he does not sing or rap over his creations. Furthermore, Gillis has never sought licenses or authorization for any of the samples he uses.9 For instance, his latest album, “Feed the Animals,” includes over 300 unauthorized samples10 of artists ranging from Lil Wayne to Radiohead to Metallica to Kenny Loggins.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5195/tlp.2009.43

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