Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lil' Wayne Pleads Guilty

Lil' Wayne plead guilty today to charges of "attempted criminal possession of a weapon," as announced by the Manhattan, New York district attorney's office. Lil' Wayne was arrested in 2007 when police officers stopped him and another man on the streets of NYC smoking marijuana and with a .40-caliber pistol in Lil' Wayne's possession. Lil' Wayne will be sentenced in February 2010 and is believed will receive a one year jail sentence for possession of this weapon.

Of course, this news brings to mind the weapon possession plea of former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who is currently serving time in jail for famously possessing a firearm in a New York night club and accidentally shooting himself in the leg.

Both incidences raise the familiar questions in connection with celebrity artists and athletes carrying weapons (ostensibly for protection) and the very different state laws around the United States that regulate weapon possession. Many would argue that celebrity athletes and artists are in need of some type of protection from overreaching fans and those in the general public that seek to challenge these individuals. In addition, the possession of these weapons would not be criminal in many states who have adopted unlicensed weapon possession laws, including some that adopt no permit concealed weapon possession laws (concealed carry).

Is this really how we want to criminalize possessors of weapons? Both Plaxico Burress and Lil' Wayne are arguably in the prime of their careers and will now both spend time behind bars, presumably alongside hardened criminals, for possessing weapons (not for using them or hurting anyone (beside themselves)).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Doc Alert: Copyright Criminals Asks 'Can you own a sound?'

Copyright Criminals: This Is a Sampling Sport examines the creative and commercial value of musical sampling, including the related debates over artistic expression, copyright law, and (of course) money.

This documentary traces the rise of hip-hop from the urban streets of New York to its current status as a multibillion-dollar industry. For more than thirty years, innovative hip-hop performers and producers have been re-using portions of previously recorded music in new, otherwise original compositions. When lawyers and record companies got involved, what was once referred to as a “borrowed melody” became a “copyright infringement.”

The film showcases many of hip-hop music’s founding figures like Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Digital Underground—while also featuring emerging hip-hop artists from record labels Definitive Jux, Rhymesayers, Ninja Tune, and more. It also provides an in-depth look at artists who have been sampled, such as Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown’s drummer and the world’s most sampled musician), as well as commentary by another highly sampled musician, funk legend George Clinton.

As artists find ever more inventive ways to insert old influences into new material, this documentary asks a critical question, on behalf of an entire creative community: Can you own a sound?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hip Hop Academic Presentations

Hip hop in academia is being debated worldwide. On October 2, 2009, at the LatCrit Legal Scholarship Conference, a panel of law professors engaged in a presentation entitled "The Hip Hop Movement at the Intersection of Race, Class and Culture: Hip Hop Music's Effect on the Pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness." Law professors (and Hip Hop contributors) D. Aaron Lacy, Akilah Folami, andré douglas pond cummings and Kamille Wolff each presented provocative talks that discussed and debated the role of hip hop in current law and global culture.

Professor Lacy presented: "Represent: The NFL and NBA's Reaction to the Infiltration of Hip Hop Culture with its Players and its Effects on the Employment of the Black Male Athlete."

Professor Folami presented: "From Habermas to 'Get Rich or Die Tryin': Hip Hop, The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Black Public Sphere."

Professor cummings presented: "Thug Life: Hip Hop's Tricky Impact on Criminal Punishment and Corporate Exploitation."

Professor Wolff presented: "Chutes and Ladders: The Story of Rosario Dawson"

The LatCrit panel engendered much comment and debate following the presentations outlined above.

Additionally, on October 4, 2009, at Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland, at the "Intersections of Law and Culture" conference, on a panel entitled "Law and Pop Culture" three law professors from the United States debated race, hip hop and equality examining the impact of race and hip hop on global culture. Law professors Akilah Folami, andré douglas pond cummings and David Oppenheimer presented cutting edge talks to an audience of undergraduate and law professors primarily from European institutions (including students from Franklin College).

Professor Folami again presented: "From Habermas to 'Get Rich or Die Tryin': Hip Hop, The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Black Public Sphere."

Professor cummings presented: "Thug Life: Hip Hop's Curious Relationship with Criminal Justice."

Professor Oppenheimer presented: "The Legal and Social Concept of 'Color Blindness' in the United States and France."

Following these three presentations, intense debate ensued discussing the genuine role of color blindness internationally and the true potential of hip hop to be transformative and the difficult intersections of hip hop with negative imagery and influence.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More evidence that hip hop is not dead?

Earlier this year the ABA Journal reported that a litigant who filed his own appeals brief written partially in rap has won his Wisconsin appeals court ruling that he doesn't have to pay legal fees for a law suit deemed frivolous by a circuit court judge.

Gregory Royal, a trombone player, argued that he shouldn't have to pay $3,750 in feels for filing a lawsuit against county officials in Wisconsin who recommended that his divorcing wife should have primary custody of the children.

Royal's brief contained the following lines, "A domestic relations exceptions, I was supposed to know. Appellee would know too, so why did he spend so much doe?" "Regarding frivolous filings, one thing is clear, Notice to show cause and proper service before you appear."

Royal told the Associated Press he used rap in his six-page brief, rather than a lawyer, to help persuade the court. Royal said, "Imagine a real attorney who can actually capitalize and perfect that expression and throw some heavy stuff in there. It's like Einstein's theory of relatively. It's so short but so perfect there's nothing you can say about it."

Perhaps it was Royal's rap that really convinced the judge to rule in his favor. And more attorneys should use more catchy lines in their briefs to get the court's attention. But regardless, this is more evidence that hip hop is still alive kicking.