Hip Hop and it’s relation to lyrical and musical plagiarism and copyright laws

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Plagiarism, as defined in the Oxford English dictionary, is the action of taking someone else’s work and pretending it is your own work [1]. Musical plagiarism has gone through many perceptions from the earlier centuries to the recent times. Musical plagiarism can occur lyrically or instrumentally, when someone steals someone else’s components and represents it as his or her own.

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One of the first instances of plagiarism was during the times shortly after Mozart and Beethoven, where the similar ideas that first occurred to them were used in the songs by composers Mendelssohn and Wagner. Since the world was convinced of the integrity of these men, they weren’t charged with plagiarism and the similarities were considered to be pure chance resemblance [2]. In the 20th Century, plagiarism became more noticeable and the concept of chance resemblance was no longer feasible. The legal concept of copyright law was established to promote science and the useful arts. The music industry also falls into the purview of the copyright laws. Internet is a double edged sword in the music industry. On one hand it has popularized many genres of music and increased accessibility to larger variety of music. But on the other hand it has become easy for music to be copied without paying homage to the original artist. This paper proposes the argument: As long as homage and credit are given to the original creators, nothing is plagiarized. An early example on unethical usage and clear case of plagiarism where the system did not react legally or economically is illustrated along with the landmark case where copyright laws were applied in the hip hop industry and its impact are used to illustrate the thesis of the paper and propose the intended opinion.

Plagiarism ambiguity in Hip Hop

Hip Hop first began as an underground culture in New York City in the 1970s and one of the important factors in its origin is Deejaying. DJ’s such as Kool Herc found various ways to edit and sample the music they were playing, with the help of turntables, so that it would be more appealing to their audiences. This was followed by the addition of spoken word elements to the music, with the usage of the microphone, which became known as MC-ing. Various artists such as Afrika Bambaata and Grandmaster Flash created pioneering works both audibly and vocally [3]. Then, the drum machine began to be commonly used in hip hop production (thanks to Bambaata) and this pioneered the process of beat making in hip hop. This was later accompanied by the usage of the sampler and the synthesizer which could be used to sample music more efficiently [4]. From then on, hip hop opened many opportunities for the creation of new music based on previous musical work.

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