Screens Double standards

A video made to criticize Bush’s handling of Katrina comes under fire from an unlikely source

It’s Friday, October 29, 2005. At the website address from which 40,000 copies of “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People,” a music video comprised entirely of sampled clips, was downloaded, a stark, lonely message fills the left half of the screen: “Unfortunately I’m forced to remove the video,” wrote its creator, a Philadelphia-based independent producer named Marquise Lee. “I will also ask that others whom are distributing the video to stop doing so until further notice.”

Video clips that Marquise Lee appropriated for the video he made to accompany the Legendary K.O.’s track “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People”: Kanye West, top, performing the song on which the new tune is based, and a clip from a music video that Michael Moore created for System of a Down. Neither Moore nor West has contacted Lee about his video.

Two-and-a-half weeks transpired between the day Lee first heard the song created by Houston hip-hop duo The Legendary K.O., who were inspired by the plight of Hurricane Katrina refugees in their city and Kanye West’s televised off-the-cuff remark that begins the track and September 28, the day Lee received a cease-and-desist order from an independent film-production company whose clips Lee used in the video. (West, whose song was co-opted by the Legendary K.O. for their ditty and of whom footage appears in Lee’s video, has not commented nor, as of this writing, contacted Lee.)

The Current spoke with Lee on October 3. He said that a new video, without the offending clips, would be on his site,, by October 4. Lee did not want to reveal the name of the offended company until a final agreement was reached, but ironically, last year the same company settled a case out of court for appropriating a popular American folk song in an animated video critical of the Bush Administration. “They cited fair use as their defense,” said Lee. “It’s a little ironic.”

A lot of the media coverage of your video has pointed out that sampling and dubbing are widely accepted in hip-hop and rap culture. I gather the complaint came from an unexpected corner?

Honestly that was the last person I would have expected to receive a letter from `reading`: “Your selective use of certain clips coupled with the highly partisan nature of your video convey the message to the public that `my client` endorses this political message This is not the case.”

Are you interested in pursuing this for the principle of the thing?

I would’ve pursued it if I thought I had a case and I had representation, if it was one of the bigger media outlets and I thought it would send a message. It kind of upset me because I find it hypocritical, but I’m leaning towards “not” also just because of the nature of the video. I don’t want to turn this issue into another issue because that might not be as helpful to the people who are really having to deal with Katrina, or to shift focus from the social-economic-racial issues.

You and your peers must spend some time thinking about the `copyright` issues this raises.

I don’t necessarily see the connection with hurting their product. In a lot of these cases I see it more as control than anything else. Everyone in creating something, you’re building off of someone else already and I guess this is just a different way. It’s gonna have to be addressed pretty soon because technology has gotten to the point where I can do this in two days and get it out and thousands and thousands of people can see it in a small amount of time.

By Elaine Wolff