DJ Gregg Gillis, also known by fans as Girl Talk, released his fourth album Feed the Animals on June 19 of 2008. If you are unfamiliar with his work, then this video is a track from his most recent album (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKqkcHvJN9k&feature=PlayList&p=9E976B64920F8F85&index=5)(Extreme language warning). While the video is not produced by Gillis, the song is. As you can see, the song is a mash-up of many songs, ranging in genre from Lil’ John to The Beatles. The question that many have come to ask is, are these songs by Gillis copyright infringement? Is the sampling used by this DJ and by thousands of other DJ’s illegal? Do the original artists have rights to royalties from these songs?
According to Gillis, whose 2006 album Night Ripper catapulted him to fame in his genre, his tracks are covered under copyright law’s “fair use” principle. For “fair use” to be applied it must meet several characteristics. If it falls under one of the following categories: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, than it can be used and not be subject to a lawsuit. However, in reviewing each category, it would appear as though Gillis does not fall into one the stated above. Another factor in “fair use” is what is the purpose of use. Is it for commercial or non-profit purposes? In the case of Girl Talk, his latest album has been offered on his website in a “pay-what-you-want” method. This means that a user can choose to pay for it or download it for free. For bonus tracks and HD features, a user would be required to pay between $5 and $10. So it would appear as though technically Feed the Animals is non-profit. The other factors that have to be looked at are as follows. What is the nature of the copyrighted work, is it factual or fictional? It does not entirely apply here. What is the substantiality of use, is it a portion or the whole work being used? In this case it is snippets of songs, some ranging in a couple of seconds to minute long pieces. Lastly, what are the effect on the potential market? Is it neutral or will it result in lost revenue? An artist could argue it would result in lost revenue, but it is a stretch to say that a fan of Lil’ John is deciding to purchase this album over his because of the rapper’s 5 second clip in the song.
Many artists in the past and on this new album have had works used. In Feed the Animals, the following artists were sampled at one point or another: Beyonce Knowles, Rick Astly, Nine Inch Nails, Yo La Tengo, Jimi Hendrix, Lil Wayne, the Jackson Five, Missy Elliott and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There are many more. Girl Talk at no point has asked artists or copyright holders for permission. Is this a case of copyright infringement? Or does Girl Talk’s mash-ups fall under the principle of “fair use”?
It is an interesting question, and to this point no lawsuit has been filed although it is certain that one has been discussed. In the 1976 Copyright Act, the owners of copyrights have exclusive rights to the following: reproduction, performance of the work publicly, distribution, and preparation of derivate works. The latter is the most important piece. The mash-ups created by Gillis are considered derivative works because his tracks have no original base. A derivate work is one that is built on the bases of other songs. Under the Copyright Act, depending on the language of the law and intent by lawmakers, Gillis could be violating the rights of the owners of the copyrights.
To date, Feed the Animals has been met with much fanfare. In December of 2008, the album was #4 on Time magazines Top 10 albums of 2008. Rolling Stone magazine gave the album 4 stars in 2008, and ranked the album #24 on its list of the 50 best albums of the year. It is unknown how much money was made off of his most recent album. Although based on its reviews, Gillis quit his medical engineering day job to focus on DJing full time. His label, named “Illegal Art,” has released 4 of his albums. The