Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why 'Lord Finesse Vs. Mac Miller' May Be More Important Than You Think

(Youtube version is here.)


  1. I first heard about that Mac Miller video when Robbie from Unkut said he had hung out with Finesse, and while they were hanging out someone had informed Finesse of the Miller video, which already had a few million hits. I checked it out myself (for like 10 seconds) and at that time it did have that many hits.

    Also, Miller jacked the whole track, and presumably Finesse does own copyright on the parts that aren't samples. I don't gather from this case that flipping a sample the same way would mean that you owe composition royalties to someone else.

    Finally, I agree this is a big deal. How much money would the owners of the Wu Tang, Mobb Deep, etc. catalogs be looking at if the mixtape rappers from 2000-2010 had to pay for use? And how do artists who sampled freely 20 years ago feel now that they are being sampled, or blatently ripped off? Finesse said the lawsuit was because Miller had been less-than-classy about it, but really, if we're talking about tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars (realistically) would Finesse really have taken dap as payment?

    1. Yeah, I actually *hope* it's more about the money and rights issues than just Finesse being mad that MM wasn't respectful enough or whatever, because that would be kinda petty considering the severity of the lawsuit he's hitting back with.

      Then again, though, there's really no reason MM couldn't/shouldn't at least have given Finesse credit in the Youtube description at minimum - he played himself by refusing to do that.

  2. Can't co-sign your perspective on this one. Assuming Mac Miller indeed did have the number of hits on You Tube and a song available for purchase on iTunes (or elsewhere...eMusic is notorious for offering mix tapes as regular albums), then Finesse has legit beef.

    The issue, as Eye see it is not about the original composition (in this case, Oscar Peterson's). It's a fairly safe assumption that considering the generally high visibility of the "Hip 2 Da Game" track, the sample was cleared. So that means that Lord Finesse's track, while having to credit the original creator, still is considered a new composition. Mac Miller used that composition in it's entirety. That's distinctly different from using the same elements from the original sample source (as described in your "Outstanding" comparison) in slight variations of the same general manner.

    Once a composition is copy written and published (as Finesse's was), the publisher has the right to restrict or grant permission for usage of that composition in any form. If Mac Miller didn't get that permission, then he was in the wrong.

    Having said that, it's obviously has been common practice on mix tapes for artists to use popular instrumentals to rap over. Years ago, no one cared because mix tapes were largely just for underground consumption. In the 21st century, the mix tape has become just as much a financial vehicle as any other aspect of the promotional part of the business. Mix tapes ARE sold for profit now. And they are still very a very efficient means to establish an artist's visibility in the music business, setting the table for potentially greater financial gain.

    Finally, there's the You Tube part of the equation. When YT became a haven for old music video, movie and TV clips...those respective industries came swooping in to ban usage of their intellectual property until they could negotiate a proper means of compensation. This is more analogous to that situation....Finesse's intellectual property was being used in a public and wide ranging manner. He has a right to request compensation for that usage.

    If your concern is that the original sample is not his to defend, you're mistaken. It's not uncommon to see the name of the songwriters from the original source material AND the writers of the new composition listed in the credits of a song that contains samples. The only implication of that is that EVERYBODY gets paid when the royalties kick in. But the new composition is still considered a distinct body of work...intellectual property...and as such, the owner of that IP has the right to compensation.

  3. One final thought...if there IS a concern here, it's what the future of mix tapes will be. The loophole that was always used to escape this very issue that we see in this case was that mix tapes were not for sale, they were for promotional use only. But clearly, that has changed over the years...and speaks nothing of the quandary for services like You Tube. Where is the line between private recreational use and public distribution (promotional or not) to consumers? Today's mix tapes are nothing short of independent album releases. You Tube can (and does) act like a free distribution network of those releases. What this case really brings to question is the legality of a release and distribution model that heretofore existed on the fringe but has proved to be far more lucrative than originally intended.

    Eye suspect that the usage of copywritten work on mix tapes and you tube clips is going become a lot less pervasive. Finesse has a strong case if he can demonstrate how Mac Miller's usage was linked to ANY financial gain. The "promotional" loophole will close and all bets will be off.

    1. You start out like you're disagreeing with me, but then we're on pretty much the same page on each point. =) One good point you bring up which I didn't really get into, though, was about the concept of "promo only." It's always sorta been a B.S. line (how many times have we walked into record stores back in the days and purchased 12" singles right off the shelves with "for promotional use only" printed right on it?), and that line's getting blurred even more now that "promo" stuff on the internet reaches everybody everywhere, just like a majorly distributed release. So, yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if cases like this lead to courts coming down harder on "promos" like Miller's song.

    2. What Eye disagreed with was what you asserted was the main point, that LF is suing MM for "samples he doesn't own". That's not true nor is it really the point. LF is suing for use of his composition, which he DOES own. That fact that his composition contains a sample is not of any consequence as it pertains to his lawsuit against MM. LF (and/or whoever owns the publishing on that song) have rights the minute that song is copywritten.

      The other thing that is being largely overlooked is that the suit names Dat Piff as well. To me, this is where the real heart of the case is. People let mixtapes slide (artists, record companies, etc) because up until the last decade or so, it was an underground tool the generated minimal revenue streams and really was more about promotion. However, as record companies and independent artists began to recognize the true promotional impact and relative low financial and legal investment needed to get in on it, the game changed. So much so, that a site like Dat Piff can exist and generate revenue from this medium. While they may not charge for these mixtapes, the certainly get advertising money....and more importantly, accept "sponsorship" of specific other words, somebody is paying them for a given mixtape to be featured on the site. When you hear numbers being throw around like $1 million to record a mixtape (see Nikki Minaj), that means the returns for that investment are expected to far exceed that amount. Translation: mixtapes are BIG business now. So as such, the same way Viacom and Warner and the like checked the Napsters and the You Tubes of the world for cutting in on their hustle, Dat Piff and the mixtape community in general is being put on notice.

    3. Yeah, I actually say "it's not about the sample; it's about the composition" in my video, too. That's what's so interesting... is that even if Miller had cleared the Oscar Peterson sample (yeah, I'm sure he didn't... but just hypothetically, imagine if he had), it wouldn't protect him. Because it's not the sample that's in question, it's the original composition Finesse created (using that sample and all the other elements), which Miller lifted in total.

      That's interesting that Dat Piff was targeted in the suit, too. I hadn't heard that, but it makes sense. I almost hope they don't settle just because the outcome of this case would be so interesting and important, whichever way it ends up going. As it is, it's a weird, gray area of the law nobody acts on because nobody really knows. I mean, when I look at it, I don't see how Miller could have a leg to stand on; but that's just my opinion. lol Plus, we're already seeing other artists dealing with this now (I just tweeted about Wiz Khalfia having clearance issues with his upcoming mixtape), so we should really get a solid legal precedent to define the boundaries.