We recently wrote about George Clinton speaking out about Bridgeport Music, the copyright troll that Clinton alleges forged paperwork to get the rights to Clinton's works, and then went on a rampage suing hundreds of (mainly hip hop) artists for sampling Clinton's work (something Clinton is in favor of allowing). As we noted, we were a little disappointed in the lack of clarity from Clinton on the details, but more of the picture is coming out, thanks first to a comment by people associated with Clinton, claiming:
Bridgeport claims ownership to the majority of P-Funk's music by using a forged document from 1983 dealing with the transfer of the Malbiz catalog of songs. Armen Boladian has admitted in court that he signed George's name, changed wording of the contract w/o notification, and practiced these same tactics on numerous other documents. Essentially Bridgeport acquired the music through theft, coercion, blackmail & other highly dubious actions.
Clinton has also put up a new video that appears to show Armen Boladian being deposed concerning these issues, implying strongly that he altered documents (the edits make it difficult to confirm the full accuracy of the questions Boladian is answering -- but assuming the edits are accurate, that's the picture the video paints).
Both the comment and the video suggest that Clinton is working on a RICO lawsuit against Boladian/Bridgeport. The video also suggests additional backroom dealings between record labels and Bridgeport, to avoid paying artists. Unfortunately, yet again the details of what Clinton is accusing the labels of is quite murky, but hopefully we'll get more details soon.
Of course, all of this seems to highlight the sheer insanity of "ownership" around "rights" in a song. You can't see it. You can't hold it. You can't block it off. The "rights" are fictions. They're whatever is on a piece of paper, and people can edit and change the paper. That's not property. It's an imaginary figment.
For many years, we've covered the odd situation between Bridgeport Music and George Clinton. The history there is highly disputed, but somewhere along the line, Bridgeport Music (apparently a one-man shop by a guy named Armen Boladian) "acquired" the rights to a bunch of George Clinton songs. Clinton claims that Boladian "stole" them and forged his signature on various documents. There are other versions of the story that involve questionable actions by agents, lawyers and record labels. Either way, about a decade ago, Boladian noticed that tons of hip hop songs sampled Clinton songs, and he dug up every single example he could find and sued them all -- filing hundreds of lawsuits. Some resulted in legal victories, including an absolutely dreadfully ridiculous ruling in the 6th Circuit, Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, which involved an almost totally unrecognizable 2-second sample of a Funkadelic tune that had the pitch changed. The district court reasonably found no copyright violation, but the appeals court, in a ruling that shocked many copyright scholars, stated that any copy was a violation: "Get a license or do not sample. We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way."
Either way, George Clinton and Bridgeport have battled it out before, with Clinton agreeing to testify on behalf of certain artists sued by Bridgeport in the past. Clinton claims that Bridgeport dropped the cases every time he did that. Last week, Bridgeport sued Lil Wayne over a George Clinton sample, and Clinton is apparently not at all happy about it, putting out the following video where he calls the whole thing "bullshit" (in two languages! so slightly NSFW):
The video also highlights some of Clinton's past dealings with Bridgeport and suggests that Clinton is getting involved in the fight. In the video, he states:
The DNA of hip hop has been hijacked, leaving many artists across generations in needless hardship.
Unfortunately, in all the years following Bridgeport and George Clinton, I have to admit that Clinton is anything but clear and detailed in explaining what happened or even what's going on today. The same is true of the current video which doesn't go into much detail. And while it points people to Clinton's blog Funkprobosci to "help stop" Bridgeport, there really isn't that much additional infromation. There is an FAQ, which has some info, but is again confusing and not particularly detailed. It would be great if there were a more complete and detailed explanation of (1) how Bridgeport got Clinton's music (2) the existing legal challenges between Clinton and Bridgeport, and (3) what Clinton is trying to do now.
This one came out about a month ago, and I'd been ignoring writing about it because it was too frustrating (even though we wrote about the case earlier). But people keep submitting it, so we might as well dig in. This particular case involves Bridgeport Music, a company that claims to own a bunch of composition copyrights, including (most importantly) those of many songs by funk legend George Clinton -- though, Clinton himself claims that the guy behind Bridgeport forged signatures to get the copyrights, and Clinton himself doesn't have a problem with hip hop artists sampling his music. However, Bridgeport has filed hundreds of lawsuits over these copyrights, and while it has lost or settled a bunch of cases, it has had a few stunning and confusing victories that seem to ignore the concept of fair use in music.
This particular case involved a song by the band Public Appearance, called "D.O.G. in Me" that apparently samples a part of Clinton's track "Atomic Dog" and uses the phrase "bow wow wow yippee yo, yippee yay" near a rhythmic repetition of the word "dog." Now, for the most part, the two songs are incredibly different, and at most you could consider the latter one to be an homage to the first -- most likely creating more interest in the original song. However, a jury (with limited instructions in the matter of fair use) ruled for Bridgeport. And while we found it amusing that Universal Music suddenly is concerned about fair use and how high the penalties for copyright infringement are when they're suddenly on the other side in Bridgeport cases, we were happy to see Universal Music appeal the ruling.
Unfortunately, however, the same 6th Circuit that gave Bridgeport its earlier ridiculous win has done so again in this case, with a rather bizarre interpretation of the four factors of fair use. To be honest, I can't see how any of the four factors used in judging fair use would go against Universal or Public Appearance. It used a tiny part of the song, and even if it was an important part of the song, it hardly harms the market for the song. Furthermore, the claim that the use of the word "dog" is part of the infringement is absolutely ridiculous, not the least of which is because Bridgeport only owns the copyright on the composition, not the recording -- and the sheet music for the song doesn't even include the rhythmic use of the word "dog."
Unfortunately, this is yet another dreadful ruling that basically eliminates fair use rights when it comes to music sampling.
You may recall Bridgeport Music as a company that claims to own the rights to various musical compositions and has a long history of suing anyone who samples even the tiniest bits of that music. The worst part is that there are very serious questions concerning whether or not it really has the rights to much of the music it claims to control. George Clinton, for example, claims that Bridgeport used forged signatures to get control over his catalog. A recent Bridgeport case may be interesting for a different reason, though -- one that shows how the record labels have no problem contradicting themselves when on the receiving end of a copyright infringement lawsuit.
The lawsuit involved Univeral Music, who lost the original decision and was hit with a rather large fine. Universal Music appealed that decision on a variety of points -- and appears to have convinced the judge that the punitive damages tacked onto the copyright infringement claims were unconstitutional. This is quite interesting because, as Ray Beckerman notes in that link, Universal Music is involved in a bunch of lawsuits where it's pushing for extremely high fines for individuals found guilty of infringement. In fact, Universal Music is actually on the receiving end of a lawsuit that accuses the company of requesting unconstitutionally high fines. In that case, Universal Music is asking for fines that are more than 1,000x the actual damages. Pretty high, right? So what were the damages that Universal Music (and the court) found so unconstitutionally high in this case from Bridgeport? Turns out they were about 10x the actual damages. Funny how that works.
It seems like Universal Music may come to regret pointing out the variety of reasons (pdf) why punitive damages can be seen as unconstitutional, as one would imagine that UMG's own filing will be raised against it in its own copyright infringement suits:
"While the Supreme Court has declined to adopt concrete or bright-line constitutional limits for the ratio between actual or potential harm and a punitive-damage award, the Court nonetheless observed that, "in practice, few awards exceeding a singled-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy due process."... The court cited a 4-to-1 ratio as being close to the line of unconstitutional impropriety."
Universal Music would likely claim in its own defense that it was complaining about punitive damages, and in the other lawsuits it's fighting for statutory damages, but there are already plenty of folks pointing out that there really isn't much of a difference in many cases.
Leigh Beadon: @GM their segment name of "Good News! You're Not Paranoid" was especially great, i thought :) Great Mizuti: @Leigh definitely. they did not lose their edge with the replacement host (i suppose no sign they should have, same writers probably) silverscarcat: http://trutechnoid.com/2013/06/17/drm-is-the-future/ - If this is the future, then the future is bleak and gaming will die. Leigh Beadon: @GM i felt like John Oliver needed a couple episodes to settle into the rhythm and now he's right on point. He's always been good though, and he's slowly bringing a bit of his own flavour to it but yeah, the writing team is the same i'm sure, just with a different guy delivering (and possibly approving) the jokes Mike Masnick: btw, i only just discovered last week that john oliver has a weekly podcast. which is awesome Great Mizuti: @ssc, i could not get passed the second paragraph in that article. run-ons and fragments and grammar, oh my! this is clearly not the official spokesman for the future of the industry. @mike, does he really?!? i did not know this. seems like something i can't live without now that i know about it. Mike Masnick: http://thebuglepodcast.com/ silverscarcat: GM, I could barely read the article myself. John Fenderson: Wow. I seriously think that AJ has finally suffered a complete psychotic break. Josh in CharlotteNC: Not the first time, John. He's been overdue for awhile. silverscarcat: Which thread? Jay: He now has a pastebin for just Mike. Wow, he just doesn't quit... John Fenderson: @silverscarcat: All of them. silverscarcat: Wow... I think the funny men with the little white coats need to pay him a visit. Jay: ... I just thought about what the NSA is doing... They're creating the largest collection of books in history. Conceptually speaking, they're archiving and vacuuming all of the books that they can't read. BentFranklin: Links in comments need a new style. You can barely see them. How about bold them like in articles?