Are Girl Talk and Other Mashup Artists Violating Copyright?

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If you’re one of the people who got Girl Talk’s (aka Greg Gillis) All Day to actually download, congratulations you’re the proud owner of his latest album. The tracks might sound familiar, though. Girl Talk is a mashup artist, a musician whose instruments are pieces of recorded music that he or she mixes together to compose a piece.

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Questions about Girl Talk and other mashup artists like him have been raised in the past regarding whether it is right to lift other people’s music and use it as part of their own. Other popular musicians include Danger Mouse, who mixed Jay-Z’s The Black Album and The Beatles The White Album to create his The Grey Album, Linkin Park and Jay-Z’s Numb/Encore, which won a Grammy.  Gillis himself has spoken up against copyright law, and said it stifles creativity according to the Christian Science Monitor. For the most part, fair use doctrine protects artists like him from any legal repercussions since their work is often different and “transformative” from original project, and they only use a snippet of the work. It’s the same guidelines that allows DJs to remix popular hits or other musicians to sample verses or choruses in their work.

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This latest album is no different from the rest of his works: All Day features unauthorized clips from published music. Although Gillis says he plans to publish a list of all the artists sampled as a thank you of sorts for All Day, he has never mentioned any attempt to compensate them for use of their work. Interestingly enough, cover bands, even those who change up the style of the original song like Richard Cheese or Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, still have to pay royalties to the original artist. Girl Talk argues that his songs never compete with the original songs – the mashup tunes are often completely different from the original song. He argues that with this style of music paying back everyone who you sampled from would make each album cost an exorbitant amount. If songs like these were determined to be infringing on copyright, then the entire mashup style would disappear. “If I wanted to actually clear all the samples, it would first of all be impossible, and then if [the other artists] went for it, it would take forever,” he told the Village Voice.  “And if we could clear all the samples, we would probably have to sell each CD for a couple thousand dollars each just to pay back the individual artists.”

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