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Artists go after 'Harlem Shake' for unlicensed samples

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Baauer Harlem Shake - Multiple
Baauer Harlem Shake - Multiple

The infectiousness of the Harlem Shake meme has turned Baauer’s pounding dance track into a surprise hit, perhaps most surprising for two artists that found out their voices were on the song. The New York Times reports that neither Reggaetón artist Hector "El Father" Delgado or Philadelphia MC Jayson Musson gave permission for their performances to be used on Harlem Shake. The song was never intended to be an international hit, premiering on dance label Mad Decent’s non-exclusive imprint, Jeffree's. That kind of obscurity gives sample-based productions like Harlem Shake protection from copyright owners, but with the song closing in on the one million digital download mark, there’s now real money at stake. Delgado’s former manager Javier Gómez tells The Times, "we can turn around and stop that song. That’s a clear breaking of intellectual property rights." Both artists are currently negotiating with Mad Decent over royalty payments.

It's the perfect recipe for a mountain of underground music with uncleared samples

Major labels ordinarily negotiate royalties with sampled artists well in advance of a release, often scrapping songs altogether if an agreement can’t be reached. But smaller labels like Mad Decent and independent artists don’t have access to the same legal and financial resources. Combine this with the ready availability of professional production tools and it’s the perfect recipe for a mountain of underground music with uncleared samples. And that’s further compounded by the non-stop flow of songs to sample on the web. Referring to Delgado’s refrain of "con los terroristas" ("with the terrorists") at the beginning of Harlem Shake, Baauer told The Daily Beast, "the dude in the beginning I got off the internet, I don’t even know where."