You may have read that Mac Miller and Lord Finesse settled in December over the dispute of Mac's use of Lord Finesse's work. You may have also read everything from ridiculous YouTube comment section reasoning to Mac Miller’s own lawyer's press release. You may feel like one is better than the other, or that the spirit of hiphop is being perverted somehow, but there is a logical explanation for this, which stands outside of your spurious reasoning. Rest at ease.
Lord Finesse isn't owed 10 million dollars by rap’s cutest start up because he's decided to betray the roots of hiphop. US Copyright Law is actually pretty easy to follow and available to digest in many forms over at this website. In addition to the usual FAQ section, they’ve also got pamphlets covering a series of specific subjects, and a series of cartoons for explaining things like copyright infringement to school children. There's also the entire law just sitting there for you to read. I grant you that the sections on sound recordings are incredibly dated, referring to transferring sound via phonograph doesn’t even sound civilized, but the principles of the law do still apply.
It's easiest to first begin with the popular Mac Miller fan defense (no, not the gormless, air-headed defense about the honor of hiphop) which is stated reasonably as:
Lord Finesse never paid Oscar Peterson for his sample of "Dream of You" used on his track "Hip 2 Da Game" either, tho.
This is the first and best argument, which attempts to establish Miller's innocence and show that Lord Finesse is a greedy ’90s monster back from the dead, participating outside the lines of hiphop historical allowances. This argument is, however, wrong.
Under chapter 3 section 301 of the copyright law of the good ol’ US of A, Oscar Peterson does hold copyright for his work published in 1971 until the year 2067. This does not mean it is not okay for Lord Finesse to have sampled his work in the 1995 single "Hip 2 Da Game" (which appeared on the Awakening album in 1996). Finesse may have simply credited and been given permission by Oscar Peterson to use the sample, the latter of which I doubt. The more likely possibility falls under what’s called a "derivative work" clause (Chapter 1 Section 103), which is defined by the Copyright Office as "A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship." That means that for Lord Finesse to take an Oscar Peterson record (Reunion Blues, so good), put it on a turntable, sample three seconds worth of vibraphone from the first five seconds of the track, and loop it, creates an entirely different work than Oscar Peterson’s "Dream Of You," which is called a derivative. Derivative works are copyrighted by their owners like all copyrighted works at the point of creation, no little symbol necessary. You don’t even need to file paperwork to hold copyright over something you've created.
But isn't Mac Miller just doing what Lord Finesse did? Isn't this what hiphop is?
In short, no. Mac Miller used well over a few seconds of the Lord Finesse beat. As a matter of fact, if you listen to "Kool Aid n Frozen Pizza" and "Hip 2 Da Game" side by side, he used the whole goddamn thing. This is a problem because once Lord Finesse created that beat (literally at the moment he created it) he owned the copyright to it. Whether or not Mac Miller made money off the K.I.D.S. mixtape at the time of release is inconsequential. Whether or not Mac Miller indeed credited Lord Finesse with the use of the beat is also inconsequential (I'll get to why in a bit). He would've had to have had permission in writing ahead of time to do so, and since he didn’t "sample" the beat, as is hiphop custom, he set his own song outside of the derivative clause.
Furthermore, there are four factors determining whether a copyright is being infringed upon or simply being made "fair use" of. From my personal favorite, Section 107, you may be doing it wrong, and subject to infringement suit if you haven't considered:
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
Yes, Mac Miller did use this tape, if not this song specifically to launch a commercial career, no he wasn’t teaching kids about Kool-Aid and frozen pizza.
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
Yes, the fact Mac Miller credited it to Lord Finesse when he laid it down showed that he knew it was copyrighted by him (the rest of us knew it too), so it wouldn’t have mattered if he had credited Finesse or not.
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
Holy wow. I can't even. He just went ahead and used the whole thing didn't he? That’s not a derivative work AT ALL!
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
This is the kicker, folks, this is the game right here. Either Lord Finesse or his lawyers (or both) are very smart and could smell that blood in the water. They saw that Mac Miller's (and now Dan Bull's, for that matter) use of Lord Finesse's copyrighted work did, in fact, effect the potential market value of Lord Finesse's work. If asked, who would you think made that beat? If you were to go out and purchase an album, would it be more likely that you would now seek out and find Mac Miller's work rather than Lord Finesse's fairly used, copyrighted work? Yes. Mac Miller has significantly affected the potential market value of Lord Finesse's work by using it in his song, to the potential tune of 10 million smithereens. End of story.
Dan Bull’s work is also being ripped from YouTube as fast as it’s being reposted in protest, for the same reason. Despite being a critique of Lord Finesse (which is a completely fair use) he’s rapping over the same beat! Folks, save yourselves some time and get to the source of the problem before you run your mouth.
I don’t care what you say Mac Miller's song is so much better than Lord Finesse's song anyway. You’re stupid you suck, TLDR, GFY, OMG.
Think about this: without Lord Finesse, it's likely that Mac Miller would've gone unrecognized at his tiny label, competing to be heard from Pittsburgh, and behind label mate Wiz Kalifah without a big "mature" sounding beat like that of "Hip 2 Da Game."
The spirit of hiphop is not to steal entire tracks, it's to sample beats with which to rap over, to go out into the community and make art, to dance. Members of the hiphop community are artists just like any other community, their work, whether derivative fair use or completely original, falls under protection of the US Copyright office, and people who infringe upon that work are subject to punishment. This is to protect you, and allow you some semblance of a chance to scratch out a life for yourself with your own creative endeavors. Hiphop is the folk music of a people, a people who know better than to let themselves be ripped off, be knowledgable, beware.