Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
copyright, fair use, george clinton, music


Bow-Wow-Wow-Yippie-Yo-Yippie-Yea Is Infringing, And Fair Use Won't Save It

from the dog-me dept

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.

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