Court Rules That All Musical Samples Must Be Paid For

Court Rules That All Musical Samples Must Be Paid For

The case at the crux of this new ruling focuses on the 1990 N.W.A song "100 Miles and Runnin'." The track samples a three-note guitar riff from a 1975 Funkadelic track, "Get Off Your Ass and Jam." The sample, in which the pitch has been lowered, is only two seconds long but is looped to extend to 16 beats and appears five times throughout the track.

In 2002, a lower court said that although the Clinton riff was in fact entitled to copyright protection, the specific sample "did not rise to the level of legally cognizable appropriation," according to the AP. The appeals court opposed that decision, explaining that an artist who acknowledges that they made use of another artist's work may be liable, and sent the case back to the lower court.

"Get a license or do not sample," the court said Tuesday. "We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way."

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35 Responses:

  1. lars_larsen says:

    Fuck that. What if they refuse you a license? What do you do then?

    That reminds me, I have to buy the property rights to the complete works of shakespeare. Then bury them and never let anyone publish them ever again.

    • jabberwokky says:

      Then you don't use it legally.

      As a musician, I've worked for many many years to perfect my sound. When I record it, it is like a painter painting or an author writing. It's mine to do with as I wish for the terms of copyright[1]. When I write a song, anybody can pay the mechanical reproduction fee and make a cover of it. That's how it works.

      [1] Now, those terms have certainly become excessive, but that's not directly related and is something to be wailed about separately.

      • lars_larsen says:

        Copyright laws don't actually protect the RECORDING of the sound, they protect the notes that make up the song. Combinations of 1, 2, and 3 notes are reused so often in music, that you cant really claim that they're original. Its nothing more than simple combinatorics. So since you cant claim the notes as original, and copyrights don't cover the physical recording, you have no case. At least, thats the idea.

        Can anyone reproduce your music if they pay the fee? You have no right to reject someone a license? That would be nice if it were true. Tell me it is.

        I seem to remember several cases of record labels denying someone a license. Maybe I remember them wrong.

        • jwz says:

          Copyright law protects both the song and the recording of the song, it's just that the law adds a "compulsory license" to the song itself (the notes and lyrics) but not to the recording of the song (the CD.) And the holders of those two different copyrights are usually different people/corporations.

        • jabberwokky says:

          Copyright laws don't actually protect the RECORDING of the sound, they protect the notes that make up the song.

          No, that's what this decision indicates. It covers the recording of the sound. Which makes sense. I can't take a couple CDs, make a mix CD and sell it.

          Can anyone reproduce your music if they pay the fee? You have no right to reject someone a license? That would be nice if it were true. Tell me it is.

          It is. There are also laws and decisions that you seem to miss... your example of notes is backwards - you can *only* copyright a melody ("notes"), whereas chord progressions cannot be protected.

          This is all pretty basic stuff. Go to your local music store (or bookstore) and pick up one of the many legal books aimed at professional musicians. The vast majority of musicians (the non superstar ones) deal with this stuff all the time. Sort of like basic wiring, a bit of legal knowledge is an associated skillset with being a working musician.

          • lars_larsen says:

            What about if you DONT sell it? As far as I can tell you're still now allowed to sample. But if nobody could confuse your work for the original artist's, and you're not charging anything, where is the harm?

            • jabberwokky says:

              Ah... you mistake my comment for a statement regarding the ethics of the situation. The one thing that I consider clearly positive about this is that the situation has been clarified in court.

              I can see clear arguments for and against the current legal decision. I've not made a personal moral judgment about the issue, but I tend to see such issues as: the creator of a work should have control over how the work is used for a reasonable amount of time. That's not the case right now for my definitions of reasonable nor does the current corporate climate tend to let creators have control over their work.

              None of that changes the current judgment.

    • I agree. If someone does not want you to use their work in yours, tough rocks. Put another way: if you don't want someone to use your work in theirs, your desire to protect your bread & butter outweighs their desire to make some by freeloading off you.

      Also, the works of Shakespeare are not protected by copyright because the artist in question has been dead for nigh 400 years.

      • lars_larsen says:

        Yes, but american copyright laws covers 75 years or more!!! I dont think I'm going to find any high quality samples from 75 years ago! Sure, its not 400 years. But its close!

        Copyright law doesnt just protect people from someone making money by freeloading on you. It also prevents people from reproducing your work for FREE. If their work couldnt be confused for yours, and they arent making any money, whats the harm?

    • wfaulk says:

      What if they refuse you a license?

      I hesitate to say this, as I can't find any attribution now, but I believe that the owners of the original are required to provide licenses to everyone, and that on top of that, for a reasonable fee. Not of the recording, but of the ... uhhh ... source code. Sure, it's not the same thing as the original recording, but with the usually small samples that are used, it shouldn't be hard to reproduce fairly accurately. Maybe someone with better searching skills than mine can find some backup for this idea.

      • zkzkz says:

        a) there's no such thing as "source code" as far as copyright law is concerned. You don't copyright an idea, you copyright the expression of an idea.

        b) there exist compulsory statutory licenses but nothing relevant to this situation. The compulsory statutory licenses are there to make things like radio feasible without negotiating individual licenses with every producer.

        • wfaulk says:

          So you're saying that sheet music is uncopyrightable? I'm pretty sure that's wrong. I didn't use the term "sheet music" above, as I feel certain that many of the things being sampled were never available as sheet music, per se.

          The thing I read was referring to groups doing cover versions of songs and that the owner of a song, not the recording, was required to license it, which is why you were able to hear covers of songs that you'd expect the owner not wanting to exist. Again, though, I can't find it now, so I have no way to back up my statement.

  2. zkzkz says:

    Lots more discussion on this issue.

    Some of the issues Negativland raised in the 80s and 90s really makes me think of the Napster and subsequent RIAA battles. They were really ahead of their time.

    • lars_larsen says:

      Negativland's film "Sonic Outlaws" was STOLEN from the airport when it arrieved to show in my town. I found that horribly ironic.

    • Negativland is an excellent example of how this is a form of censorship. They often use samples of copyrighted material to make fun of the source of that material. It is similar to saying that you need someone's permission to satirize them.

      • zkzkz says:

        Well if you're using the sample to make fun of someone then it's not similar to satire, it *is* satire. Parody is one factor in deciding whether a use is covered by Fair Use for precisely this reason.

        However as Negativland showed with Dispepsi and U2 it's often the case that victims of parody use copyright law (or trademark law) to threaten or bully the authors of the parody.

        I tend to think copyright, patents, trademark can mostly just go. They do good but they do about as much harm. It seems like we could devise better incentives for creativity and research that don't impose such awful restrictions on future works.

  3. maarten says:

    By comparison, would it be OK to lift one function out of a GPL'd program and reuse it in non-OSS code?

  4. jkonrath says:

    Sounds like Puffy's going to have to return that diamond-encrusted iPod he just got.

  5. baconmonkey says:

    The following artists are set to become very rich:

    Led Zeppelin, James Brown, The Winstons, and Bob James

    • jwz says:

      I think by "the following artists" you mean "the labels who own the work of the following artists."

      • batmite2000 says:

        I would not be at all suprised if Robert Plant were bitching about Led Zeppelin samples, however...

        • jwz says:

          Well, the man was embalmed in 1979, you can't really blame old coots like that for not understanding life here in the future.

          • batmite2000 says:

            HAH! Du machst Spass!

            Seriously, though, he had a decent solo career in the 80's, right? It must have been a record company robot stand-in.

            I, for one, welcome our Record Company Robot Masters. :)

  6. googoobaby says:

    I really feel that some people just make the tackiest music, re-using somebody's hook since they can't do anything as good. But then there are true sampling artists like Jack Dangers.

    I've read interviews Jack where he explains that he tries to get permission for the samples and the labels that own the original content can't tell what it came from since it's been so treated. By then it's new again.

  7. krick says:

    This is a must read...

    How Copyright Law Changed Hip Hop
    An interview with Public Enemy's Chuck D and Hank Shocklee

  8. pfrank says:

    If this applies to movies being sampled by music artists, then the producers of Blade Runner now own all of industrial music.

  9. "Get a license or do not sample," the court said Tuesday. "We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way."

    The court then turned off the microphone, and added "After all, none of the music we listen to and enjoy needs any of this sampling stuff. Listen to some real music, you bums."