Before the era of social media, disputes between producers and artists in the entertainment industry might have happened behind closed doors in a studio or a law firm.
These days, they happen on Twitter.
Fans of Harlem rapper/songwriter Azealia Banks didn’t get an anticipated single this week, but they did get a spectacle, when they watched her duke it out with producer Munchi, a noted DJ and mix artist credited as a creator of Moombahcore, a brand of Caribbean-tinged Dutch electronica.
The issue at the heart of their public debate is a matter of ownership of a track off Banks’ recent summer mix, Fantasea. Live for Live Music has a succinct breakdown of the backstory.
Munchi created the beat for the song in 2010, when he released it under the title “Esta Noche,” sampling a track by Montell Jordan and Claudja Barry.
Banks’ “Esta Noche” consists of her rapping and singing over the backdrop of Munchi’s song, without any noticeable changes to the music itself.
Banks released her track with permission from Jordan and Barry, creators of the song that Munchi sampled to produce his own work. But she failed to secure permission from Munchi.
The literary equivalent of this would be someone intending to publish Fifty Shades of Grey fanfiction but choosing to get permission from Stephenie Meyer, author of Twilight, while sidestepping E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades, altogether.
Sampling is a complex copyright issue, and sampling the work of other artists without their permission is a tricky matter of etiquette. Whether artists need to pay royalties to the original authors of their remixes is often a matter of the creator’s personal choice, but the remix community considers asking permission before releasing mixes commercially to be largely a matter of courtesy.
Munchi alleged that Banks’ production company contacted him for permission only after they had announced the single’s release. But Banks countered that Munchi has “no right to be beefing right now when all u did was a remix.”
Banks’ single was due to drop Tuesday. Instead, she got an earful from Munchi, who used his Twitter account for the first time to publicize the disagreement. You can read a Storify of their Twitter fight here.
Munchi took Banks to task for “releasing my track, being a spoiled brat, releasing coverwork, release dates before even reaching out,” and stated that he didn’t want the money he claimed Banks was offering him for permission to use his work.
“This is one of the finest examples of an artist sticking up for himself and the integrity of his work in recent memory,” Live for Live Music wrote about the dispute; but on Twitter at least, standing up for Munchi’s integrity involved a vehement attack on Banks, as the DJ accused her of being an unoriginal rip-off. In turn, Banks called him a “thirstbuvket” and joked that Munchi thought she was a member of the Illuminati.
As far as who actually owns the full copyright over “Esta Noche,” the law is unclear. If Banks were to argue that her use of the song falls within Fair Use under U.S. copyright law, she would have to convince a judge that she had transformed the source work. Since no changes seem to have been made to Munchi’s track, that might prove difficult. But Munchi and Banks’ combined work represents a clear transformation of the first source work, the original song by Jordan and Barry. Looking beyond the issue of sampling etiquette, Banks’ and Munchi’s dispute is a fascinating look at the increasingly blurry legal parameters of remix culture.
Banks seemed confident that she would prevail, tweeting that she would be shooting the video for the single the following day. Meanwhile, fans of both artists were divided, with one simply noting that it’s a shame the dispute existed at all: “[T]he collab could’ve been gorgeous.”
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