Great Legal News for the Art of Sampling

This post was resurrected from a defunct music blog I worked on from 2008-2010. Despite the temporary hope of the court ruling, the case hasn’t been influential in bolstering fair use, and sampling in hip-hop has only become more endangered. Recently, on the 25th anniversary of 3 Feet High and Rising, De La Soul gave away their complete back catalog due in large part to Prince Paul’s brilliant – but legally nebulous – sampling.

Great news for those of you who love sample-heavy hip-hop from DJ Shadow to the Alchemist, from Ghostface to Kanye! The sample-stifling precedent of Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Filmshas been rejected by the New York Supreme Court.

In 2005, after a federal judge found that a two-second Funkadelic guitar chord used (without permission or compensation) in NWA’s “100 Miles and Runnin” did not violate copyright law, an appeals court reversed the decision. Barely concealing its contempt for hip-hop, the court ordered: “Get a license or do not sample. We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way.”

More recently, Yoko Ono attempted to block the “intelligent design” film Expelled: No Intelligencebecause it contained 15 seconds of Lennon’s “Imagine.” In defense of the straightforward usage of Lennon’s song in the film, the court rejected the Bridgeport/NWA precedent, which had previously held that any sampling of music – no matter how minimal – violated copyright law.

By the way, even more unsettling details have been exposed about Bridgeport. Apparently, the music corporation is simply one man, a notorious “sample troll” who brings suit after suit in order to extort money from old rights. What’s more? George Clinton has explained that his signature was forged by Bridgeport on many of the contracts for Funkdelic’s songs, including “Get Off your Ass and Jam” (the track in the NWA case).

Further weekend reading: