Copyrights And The Most Famous Drum Break Ever

The well-done documentary Copyright Criminals is airing this week in the U.S. on PBS and watching it last night was a stark reminder of how antiquated our current copyright laws are. In the US, they haven't been seriously updated since 1976  – a fact which my younger students at Berklee find almost unfathomable – and the situation elsewhere is similar. 

Change is long overdue as this 20-minute video on the history of the "Amen Break," a six-second drum sample from the b-side of a chart-topping single from 1969, also reminds us. This sample was used extensively in early hiphop and sample-based music, and became the basis for drum-and-bass and jungle music – a six-second clip that spawned several entire subcultures.

Share on:


  1. What change is overdue?
    I agree, it was a good documentary. But it never offered a solution. It’s a typical problem in the copyright debate. People complain but don’t offer solutions. I think the many people interviewed for the documentary have solutions in mind, but none of them made it into the film.
    How can artist be compensated while sampling is made easier? It’s a very complicated subject and there’s definitely no easy solution, but it’s vital that people start suggesting alternatives. Creative Commons is one option, but that’s not copyright reform. It’s an alternative to copyright. In fact, DJs and producers today have all sorts of free alternatives thanks to Creative Commons. Are they using them? Doesn’t look like it. (I’d love to see a Girl Talk concert where he plays nothing but Creative Commons songs. There would be a chorus of boos and a mass exodus for the doors.)

  2. do they mean to tell us that Amen Brother has never experienced sales specifically because of its historical ties via the Amen Break? I find that very, very, very hard to believe. I mean, really, I’d never heard of this artifact, but now, if I were to spot that 45 for sale, I’d probably pick it up if only so I could tell this story first before playing it!

  3. Good post Bruce. Credit where it’s due and if at all possible a break. Ironic that the song is called Amen Break…so much for prayer. Countless artists have long been ignored and ripped off. Four more seconds and you get to eat. However, I love sampling. The KLF were a genius level outfit and their album 1987 What The F**k Is Going On? is an example of true art. They were sued by Abba and forced to destroy all copies of the record. If only Abba were smart they could have worked with KLF on it and got some cool and more cash into their career. Negativland and the U2 example is also a very sad instance indeed. Today you can get the U2 recording from the Negativland website for free. I have the original vinyl. It’s worth a lot of money. So, what does this all mean? Get Amanda Palmer smart and share your creative heart. If there’s a copyright, there’s also a copywrong. If you value the artist then respect the song.

  4. I really enjoyed this documentary. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. As a student of Renaissance art, I am fascinated with the imitation, emulation, and appropriation used to advance the arts significantly during that period. It would be a shame if legal stipulations prevent such techniques to flourish in the 21st century.

Comments are closed.