What Vanilla Ice Can Teach Us About International Copyright Law

What does it mean to own a song? Does it simply enable you to collect royalties, or does it also grant you the right to protect and preserve your creative legacy? These are questions that have gained prominence in light of sampling and remixes.

Ever since the inception of remix culture in Jamaican reggae music of the 1960s, through to the explosion of sampling in US hip-hop during the 1980s and its continued popularity in pop music today, samples have operated in a legal grey zone. This has led to a number of lengthy and acrimonious legal battles over copyright and royalties.

Are your creations yours?

In the US, Vanilla Ice (or anyone else) can cover any song he likes as long as he enters into a licence agreement in advance or pays a financial penalty afterwards. This is the reason why Neil Young, for example, who is an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders, cannot prevent Donald Trump using his 1989 anthem Rockin’ in the Free World at his political rallies. As long as Trump obtains a license, he is free to use the song. In fact, Trump could release a whole album of Neil Young covers and nobody would be able to stop him, although given his previous musical escapades, his audience might be limited.

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