The technique of using pre-recorded audio within a composition is arguably older than rock 'n' roll, which makes the ongoing controversy regarding sampling all the more strange.
1924 - Italian composer Ottorino Respighi calls for the use of a phonograph recording of nightingales in the performance of Pini Di Roma (Pines Of Rome).
1939 - American avant-garde artist John Cage invents turntablism by using phonographs manipulated by musicians in his composition Imaginary Landscape No. 1.
1948 - Musique concrète is born when France's Pierre Schaeffer experiments with manipulating real-world sounds. His first work in this style, Étude Aux Chemins De Fer, uses recordings of trains.
1951 - John Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 is performed on 12 radio receivers, the first time pre-recorded music is recontextualized within someone else's composition. Unfortunately, the performance occurs late at night after most radio stations are off the air, which leads to lots of silence and static. A year later, Cage uses elements from 42 jazz records in Imaginary Landscape No. 5 in an effort to overcome his dislike of jazz.
1961 - Cage associate James Tenney records the first bootleg remix, Collage #1 (Blue Suede), which deconstructs Elvis's Blue Suede Shoes. The result is not the least bit danceable, nor is it meant to be.
1960s - The Beatles bring sampling into the mainstream with their use of sound effects in songs like Revolution 9, the sprawling 1968 tribute to musique concrète that injects a load of weirdness into the White Album's fourth side. On the other side of the world, Jamaican producers begin recycling and reworking pre-existing tracks into instrumental dub versions for alternate vocalists. Some argue that this trend leads directly to hip-hop's attitude toward sampling and song ownership.
1975 - Kitchener, Ontario's John Oswald pioneers the mashup by marrying Led Zeppelin guitars with the vocals of an evangelical preacher on the track Power. He preferred to call it plunderphonics, while others latched on to the term bastard pop. Either way, 25 years later mashups are popularized by 2 Many DJs.
1979 - The Sugarhill Gang introduce hip-hop to the world with Rapper's Delight. The hit single is based on the rhythm track of Chic's Good Times, a popular break for DJs to extend using doubles as a backing for MCs. Technically, Rapper's Delight features no samples. Instead, a studio band replays the riff, although there are still suspicions that sections of the original recording are present. Chic threaten to sue and are given co-writer credit.
1983 - Sugar Hill Records puts out White Lines (Don't Do It), originally credited to Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, despite the fact that Flash isn't involved with the track. Once again, instead of sampling an actual recording, Sugar Hill uses a session band to reproduce the central groove of NYC post-punk band Liquid Liquid's track Cavern. The band is flattered - until the song blows up large and Liquid Liquid want their cut. They win their lawsuit, but both labels declare bankruptcy in the aftermath. The riff goes on to be quoted for years to come, so eventually the punk band does get paid.
1987 - One-off UK studio project M/A/R/R/S score a huge hit with Pump Up The Volume, inspired by the emerging sounds of American house music. Unfortunately, one of the producers mentions in an interview that they used a fragment of the song Roadblock by pop music assembly-line producers Stock Aitken Waterman, who take the opportunity to get an injunction against the record that's later resolved in an out-of-court settlement. Critics point out that the sample in question is unrecognizable and that SAW lift entire hooks for their own productions. Girl Talk goes on to sample Pump Up The Volume on Night Ripper.
1989 - 2 Live Crew take a break from the controversy around their sexually explicit lyrics for a whole new shitstorm - their parody of the Roy Orbison classic Pretty Woman. They win their lawsuit when the court rules that parody is acceptable. However, the decision is overturned on appeal, and parody is no longer considered a valid defence within music (as it is in other art forms).
1992 - Marc Cohn sues over UK dance music act Shut Up and Dance's single Raving I'm Raving, a cheeky reworking of his song Walking In Memphis that reaches number two on the singles charts. An out-of-court settlement sees the song banned and all profits given to charity. A few years later, Shut Up and Dance are asked to do a remix of Cher's version of Walking In Memphis and inexplicably are allowed to use elements from their banned song within it.
1997 - The Verve use a sample from an orchestral cover version of the Rolling Stones' The Last Time. Even though the parts used weren't in the original Stones version, the Verve are forced to pay all of their royalties from the hit to Jagger and Richards, all the more ironic considering how liberally the Stones stole from old blues artists.
2001 - Bridgeport Music files lawsuits against 800 artists for using samples of George Clinton funk songs. Clinton has claimed he never sold them the rights, but nevertheless, Bridgeport manages to usher in a new era of fear in the music industry. The company's main raison d'être is to collect copyrights of various artists and then sue whoever samples them, which turns out to be a very profitable venture if you've got a good team of lawyers.
2005 - Bridgeport wins the appeal of its lawsuit against Dimension Films over the use of a tiny slice of guitar from the Funkadelic song Get Up And Dance within NWA's 100 Miles And Running. Originally, the courts throw out the lawsuit on the basis that the sample is so minimal and has been processed so much that it's unrecognizable (i.e., the de minimus defence). However, the appeals court disagrees, effectively setting a precedent that any unlicensed sampling is copyright infringement, no matter how small. If someone is going to sue Girl Talk, it will probably be these guys.