Editorial: Should We Care That ‘Harlem Shake’ Used Un-Cleared Samples? No.


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Mar 12, 2013


First the Internet was abuzz with Harlem Shake, then EDM-Trap took over, then Harlem Shake got an – initially free – Jeffree’s release in May of 2012 before fading away only to be explosively-revived by YouTube (much to the chagrin of anyone keeping up with electronic music). This track has had a very lengthy life as far as current music is concerned.


Skip forward to March 11th, 2013 and the Internet is abuzz again with articles from massive publications such as The New York Times, Mixmag, and even Perez Hilton about Harlem Shake containing un-cleared samples. My one question after all of these articles? Why is this news. Copyright conflicts involving the music industry happen almost as often as new tracks are produced; this isn’t something new, and the fact that Mad Decent is professionally co-operating to rectify the problem already sets it leagues ahead of scandals involving mega-artists Azalea Banks or Leona Lewis.


Consider the following points:

1. Sampling is critical to current music production as synths, DAWs, and monitor speakers. Producers do it all the time and by and large everyone tries to be cool about it, but mistakes happen.

2. When Baauer made Harlem Shake he was an unknown producer and things like getting sample clips from inactive artists wouldn’t have been at the top of his to-do list.

3. Harlem Shake was initially a FREE release so once again, the issue of licensing and royalties wouldn’t have come up.

4. This track was released to the Internet THREE times before anyone noticed: once as a rip from his mix for Live For The Funk, once as a free Jeffree’s release, and once as a paid release. Is it any wonder that, months later, nobody asked if everything had been cleared?

5. The issue is being dealt with. If for some reason Mad Decent were to ignore royalty requests from the sampled artists then instead of this editorial you’d be reading a scathing one about money-grabbing label heads.


Baauer hitting Billboard #1 with un-cleared samples is unarguably interesting and is a testament to how the Internet is re-shaping the music landscape, but it’s not news: It’s the music industry.


//Ziad Ramley

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Ziad Ramley

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