Such pop-combinations are nothing new, with such acts as 2 Many DJ’s, Danger Mouse, and Hollertronix establishing their legitimacy. But the scale and popularity of Gillis’s recordings are unsurpassed by anyone else in the genre (Pitchfork again: “[Before Night Ripper] everyone on the block was mix-matching hip-hop to electro and indie rock”). Oddly, however, he has received no legal warnings. “There's an underground full of legally-questionable music,” he says via email, “but once all of the heavy press [regarding Night Ripper] hit, it became a bit more stressful.”
Gillis is well aware of the legal ramifications surrounding his work and seems, though a little taken aback, excited about the possibilities that Night Ripper’s popularity may be opening up for artists like him. “Manipulating pre-existing ideas to make something new is a very old idea,” he says. “It's the basis of folk culture and music. Classical musicians have done it, the Beatles have done it, everyone does it.” He suggests that the tools used impact the perception of legality: “It's easier for people to accept the manipulation of previous ideas on a guitar than a computer or sampler in 2007. I think it'll just take time for people to realize how similar it is. With that, I think the laws are going to have to open up to this form of artistic expression.”
The record industry seems to be welcoming Gillis with open arms and a seemingly endless list of requests for remixes and other collaborations. It’s possible that the popularity and clout Gillis has cultivated with Night Ripper is actually his saving grace; suing him at this stage in the game would likely be a PR disaster and, well, Gillis is making money. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Is Gillis afraid of being tracked down by lawyers? “Copyright law has successfully stopped artists in the past from releasing sample-based works, “ he says, “but I don't think anything could stop me from making it. Like I said previously, even if I couldn't release albums, I'd be making this for personal enjoyment and for my friends.”
It’s people on such a localized scale, making allegedly illegal music for their friends and neighbors, that seem to have the most to worry about. The RIAA and MPAA lawsuits have been filed against people who deny ever engaging in any file sharing and against people who have never used a computer. These cases almost always end up being settled out of court for all the money the defendant has in the bank. The owners of the copyrights (i.e., the musicians themselves) are rarely, if ever, involved.
Because of these types of lawsuits, Lessig and his cohorts believe that the battle for free culture must be fought from the ground up. The best way for a young person to participate, Lessig argues, is to “start a chapter of Students for Free Culture at their school.”