How Aliens Launched The Mashable Craze

Today, rap and hip-hop music may be the most popular examples of how using other’s people content for commercial gain can be both lucrative and tricky, as mountains of cash and case law rise with the evolution of sampling across different media.

While music “sampling” took root in the 80s, some believe the earliest “mash-up” record is “The Flying Saucer,” a single by Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman that reached #3 in the Billboard rankings in 1956. The song mixes newscast-like spoken word with samples of popular music and effects to tell the story of a flying saucer landing on earth and then taking off without incident. Worth noting that music publishers filed lawsuits against the two artists soon after its release.

Legal Rubber

How to properly acquire and use content you do not create in your video is dictated by the specifics of your project; however the University of Denver’s Strum College of Law offers a universal starting point: “If you want to use material that is not in the public domain and the use you are making of the material does not fall under the fair use requirements, then you should seek permission from the copyright owner.”

In other words, a lot of what your kid did when she made that awesome family video – the one with the Springsteen soundtrack and clips from the family’s favorite Hollywood movies – would expose you to a quagmire of legal issues and fines were you to follow that same approach with your company’s video.

Why you shouldn’t lose sleep worrying that the FBI is going to knock down your door and seize the family dvd is largely due to “public domain” and “fair use.”

Content that has been released for the public to access is in the “public domain,” however whether or not you may clip and re-use that paragraph or musical refrain requires research into proper use.

“Fair use” involves assessing whether or not published content may be available for re-purposing, and takes into consideration the intent of your project (i.e., a video for your family or an effort to make money), the nature of the copyrighted material, and factors relating to the distribution and market impact of the project, among others.

The folks at Strum have a checklist to assess “fair use.”

Compliance Pays Off (By Helping You Avoid Paying Out)

There’s an expanding universe of copyright law addressing the written word and music, however the legalities associated with video sampling are emerging with the advent of the 21st century.

While every piece of our world is mashable -- available for sampling, recycling, reshaping, reposting – making the right calls between creativity and compliance will ensure your video expresses your vision, captures the right message, and stands the test of time free from legal snares.

Additional Resources

We routinely work through proper use issues for our clients, however if there’s an inner legal eagle within you yearning to fly deeply into details, Chapter 5 of the Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code should satisfy.

We’ve found the Dear Rich® blog to be an easy-to-digest resource on intellectual property, copyright and associated topics and the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) an exceptional go-to for writers of all experience levels, focus areas and interests.


John Misselwitz
Communications Expert & Scriptwriter at Frontline Productions
John is a contributing writer at Frontline Productions with more than 20 years of experience in communications, including nearly 15 years creating, designing and managing executive and employee communications.