Department or Program



In the last forty years, hip-hop has become one of the most dissected musical genres within popular culture. Continuing in the tradition of jazz and blues, hip-hop combines numerous African diasporic traditions that create a rich culture and reinforce the collective identity of the musicians. Hip-hop producers compose using music sampling, the compositional technique of taking pre-existing recorded material and remixing, reappropriating, and recontextualizing the samples to create a new track. Copyright law exists to protect the rights of the author of an original work. The point of difference between hip-hop and copyright law is a divergence in opinions of what constitutes an original work, and the rights of the author of that work. Hip-hop culture is primarily oral with a strong sense of community and collective authorship. Copyright law champions the image of the lone genius as the author of a work. During the 1990s, hip-hop artists were sued with increasing frequency for unlicensed sampling. This pattern has continued through today, but surprisingly the courts’ decisions have become more restrictive. This thesis will give an overview of hip-hop culture, identifying sampling ethics that hip-hop musicians have created. The reasoning behind some of the more troubling aspects of copyright law will be explored, which will lead into the case studies which will illustrate the restrictive effect of copyright law on hip-hop. Finally, this thesis will suggest ways for copyright law to be improved by suggesting changes that could be made to the codified law.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Chapman, Dale

Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2014

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Open Access

Available to all.