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Registered: May 2001
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| Dig that Sample? No Pay, No Way
(XLR8R.com) A federal appeals court in Cincinnati, Ohio ruled early this month that artists must pay for every musical sample included in their work, even if the snippets used are unrecognizable.
This ruling sprang from federal laws passed to curb piracy of digital recordings; a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that those laws apply to digital sampling.
Though lower courts previously ruled that artists had to pay when sampling others’ work, samples were defined as recognizable pieces; it was legal to use musical snippets (note, chord etc) as long as it wasn’t identifiable. This recent decision nullifies the distinction. The reason behind the decisioning is this: If you can’t pirate a whole sound recording, you should not be permitted to sample less than the whole either.
Many think this will have a chilling effect on creativity, as, for example, hip-hop artists have often rhymed over samples of music taken from an old jazz, funk, or soul track.
The case at issue here dealt with NWA’s song “100 Miles and Runnin,” which sampled a three-note guitar riff (totaling two seconds) from “Get Off Your Ass and Jam” by George Clinton and the Funkadelic. Appearing five times in the new song, the sampled guitar pitch was lowered, looped, and extended to 16 beats. Clinton himself was not opposed to sampling- having produced the albums Sample Some of Dis and Sample Some of Dat, which explicitly encourage artists to sample without legal scrutiny.
Bridgeport Music and Westbound Records claimed copyright ownership of the Funkadelic song, taking it to court in 2002. Initially lower courts ruled that the riff in Clinton’s song was entitled to copyright protection, but the sample had been altered beyond legal recognition. The appeals court disagreed, saying that a recording artist who intentionally uses a sample may be liable even when the source of the sample is unrecognizable.
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