Video Highlights Earlier Beastie Boys Copyright Lawsuit & MCA's Thoughts On Sampling

from the de-minimis? dept

Bloomberg Law has put together a short video about Adam Yauch and the sampling lawsuit filed against the Beastie Boys the day before his death. Though the voiceover guy sounds a little like it’s his first time reading the script, the video brings up some interesting tidbits.

One is a 2003 sampling lawsuit brought against the Beasties in which they triumphed: the Ninth Circuit ruled that a flute sample they took from a James Newton song was protected by the de minimis doctrine. Basically the court found the brief sample to be too insubstantial to qualify as copyright infringement. What the video mentions briefly (but doesn’t go into in detail) is the fact that, two years later, the infamous Bridgeport ruling in the Sixth Circuit stated that samples are never protected by de minimis and must always be licensed no matter how short or simple they are. In the beginning, some major labels actually opposed that ruling, because they had already released lots of albums with samples on them and were worried about a storm of litigation. But since then, the industry has come to essentially treat Bridgeport as gospel, even though it’s only binding in the Sixth Circuit and other rulings (like the Beastie Boys flute sample) have gone the other way. There are some key differences between the rulings, though: the Newton decision was about compositional rights (the Beastie Boys had licensed the sample of the recording) whereas Bridgeport was about sound recording rights.

The video also highlights a quote from Yauch in a 2004 interview with Wired Magazine, when he was asked about unlicensed samples coming back to haunt them. His response? “I think there’s a statute of limitations on that stuff.” This is a point a few people have brought up (because it seems so completely insane to face a lawsuit over an album that has been hugely popular for over 20 years), but the legal details are a bit more complex. The countdown clock for the statute of limitations on copyright infringement doesn’t start ticking until all infringement has ceased—but Paul’s Boutique has been selling continuously all these years, and was re-issued for its anniversary in 2009. If this new lawsuit goes to trial (which doesn’t seem likely given the way sampling lawsuits normally go these days, but the Beastie Boys have yet to make a statement) then the statute of limitations would likely be used to argue that the Beasties are no longer liable for earlier album sales, but it wouldn’t get them off the hook entirely.

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Comments on “Video Highlights Earlier Beastie Boys Copyright Lawsuit & MCA's Thoughts On Sampling”

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tp (profile) says:

Easy way to avoid while creating a work...

How it normally works (in software side, not music) is that before you can make the world follow some arbitrary rules, you must first be able to follow those same rules yourself. Copyright issues are pretty much the same deal – the author can make the world follow some rules by assigning copyright notices on his work. But it’s not fair if the author cannot follow those same rules – some of the rules might be impossible to follow in current world. So it’s important that authors of creative works are able to follow those same copyright rules. Small errors like samples in music pieces are indication of how well those authors could follow the rules in each stage of their career. Different age groups can have different behaviour recarding this feature.

So when you’re creating a work, you always have to be careful not to remember someone elses song or music piece and accidentally use those same elements in your own work. In this operation, the authors are fighting the whole world – all the previously existing works of art that you’ve ever seen are competing for your attention and it takes some effort to carefully filter out all outside influence. Availability of existing works similar to what you’re attempting to create makes this operation more difficult – you have to be more and more careful. And at some point, when the market of those works is completely saturated, it’s no longer possible to create such works any longer…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“It’s been said before that the clock doesn’t start ticking until the infringement stops. The album is still being sold, so the clock hasn’t started ticking yet.”

citation please, that is not correct.

I’ve been sued for copyright infringement (well attempted) and it was thrown out past statute of limitations… 10 Years…

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I”m pretty sure the statute of limitation on copyright infringement is 10 years. Have never personally seen an exception.

This is incorrect. The statute of limitation is actually three years, but the other commenters are kinda/sorta right in that in many cases, the court will figure out a way to go back all the way to when an album started selling.

A few useful citations:

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I haven’t actually seen that used in court successfully. I think those are opinions without practical application.

Could you actually show a successfully litigated case outside the statute of limitations? I would be curious to see that.

You really have not looked very far, have you:,+712+F.2d+1112&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_vis=1&case=16207181788760799607&scilh=0

That case is cited in the citations I sent you. That explains a case in 1980 against infringement begun 4 years earlier — thus outside the statute of limitations. Yet, Judge Posner explains that the ongoing nature of the sale of the product extends things (as well as a few other factors). Simple fact is that you’re incorrect, and the many citations provided to you have already shown that.

Not sure why you continue to insist otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:

“The countdown clock for the statute of limitations on copyright infringement doesn’t start ticking until all infringement has ceased?”

I don’t believe this is correct. Statutes of limititation (and I don’t believe copyright is any different) usually start to run from the moment of “discovery”, which is further defined as that point in time when the plaintiff discovered the infringement, or acting with due diligence ought to have discovered it.

If the clock were only to start ticking once the infringement had stopped, it would mean that a copyright holder could knowingly allow his/her work to be used for any amount of time, and then suddenly, say 20 years later, decide to sue for infringement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

leigh, you need to learn the law. just post a citation of a successfully litigated case beyond the statue of limitations.

I’d really like to see it, because this isn’t really murky at all – and myself – have been attempted to be sued for copyright infringement, and having the case dismissed with prejudice on these vary grounds, and under similar circumstances leads me to believe that you guys are just simply reaching here for effect.

there’s a reason WHY there’s a statute of limitations in the first place, exactly for cases like this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“there’s a reason WHY there’s a statute of limitations in the first place, exactly for cases like this”

No one is denying that there’s a reason for a statute of limititaions, however determining exactly when the clock starts running is not always as cut-and-dried as you imply. In some cases it CAN be murky and open to different interpretations by different judges – I speak as someone currently involved in just such an appeal.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Look, I’m passing along what I read in several legal analyses, which include plenty of cases that have gone different ways. It is clearly murky – which is not uncommon in copyright law.

I did oversimplify it by saying that the clock starts ticking when infringement ceases – that’s not always the case, however, it does still get used in lots of court opinions according to Patry, though he says it’s a “sloppy” approach.

Date of discovery is also important – and keep in mind that in the Beastie Boys lawsuit, Tuf America is claiming they only confirmed the existence of the sample through recent “audio analysis”. Frankly I’m convinced they knew about it already – but while it would be easy to demonstrate that they had general knowledge of the existence of the samples, it might be a lot harder to demonstrate that they had the specific knowledge of the infringing sample that qualifies as a date of “discovery” for the lawsuit. That, plus the fact that the album is still on the shelves and was reissued only three years ago, means I highly doubt a judge would simply dismiss the suit with prejudice.

As I said in the piece, the timing of the suit would still be an important defence when determining damages – and hey maybe the lawyer could push even harder and still somehow get the case thrown out on that basis, eventually. But an immediate dismissal with prejudice, or a summary judgement for the defendant, in a sampling case like this, on the sole basis of statue of limitations? That seems highly unlikely. Especially when you consider that the famous Bridgeport case itself was over a 15-year-old NWA song, the other Beasties lawsuit (which they won on de minimis grounds, not statue of limitations) was over an 11-year-old song.

Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. UMG, Inc., et al. (Case No. 07-5596, 6th Cir. 2009) was filed 9 years after the infringing song came out, and Bridgeport was successful and got $90k in damages.

Similarly, in another Bridgeport lawsuit, it was 9 years after the fact when a judge ordered Biggie’s Ready To Die pulled from shelves. They also got $4-million in damages.

So, sorry, it doesn’t seem like the three-year statute of limitations is particularly firm when it comes to sampling lawsuits.

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