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.