First off - sampling: The European Court of Justice sided with German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, ruling that unauthorised sampling of even brief clips of a sound recording can constitute copyright infringement as long as they are recognisable, in a long running case that has added some clarity to how sampling should be treated in the European Union. Kraftwerk brought the action against hip-hop producers Moses Pelham and Martin Haas in 1999 over the Sabrina Setlur track “Nur Mir”, which revolves around a two-second snippet of Kratfwerk's “Metall auf Metall” used as a loop.
In 2012, Germany's Federal Court Of Justice found in favour of Kraftwerk, in part on the basis that Pelham could have easily recreated the sound he sampled, so clipping the snippet out of 'Metal On Metal' was just laziness. Four years later the German Constitutional Court overturned that judgement, deciding Pelham's "artistic freedom" had to be considered - and that the negative impact on Kraftwerk caused by the uncleared sample wasn't sufficient to outweigh the sampler's artistic rights. The case was then referred to the CJEU.
Making clear the difference between sampling a recording and copying part (or all) of a song, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar wrote in his opinion "A phonogram is not an intellectual creation consisting of a composition of elements such as words, sounds, colours etc. A phonogram is a fixation of sounds which is protected, not by virtue of the arrangement of those sounds, but rather on account of the fixation itself" adding "Consequently, although, in the case of [other creative works], it is possible to distinguish the elements which may not be protected, such as words, sounds, colours etc, from the subject-matter which may be protected in the form of the original arrangement of those elements, such a distinction is not, however, possible in the case of a phonogram".
In the second major case, a jury has now ruled that the Katy Perry song Dark Horse does plagiarise a Christian rap song. After two days of deliberations, the jurors concluded that Perry's team had likely heard 2008 release 'Joyful Noise' before writing 'Dark Horse', and that the latter was sufficiently similar to the former to constitute copyright infringement.
Both producer Dr Luke, a co-writer on Perry's hit and Perry herself said they had never heard of 'Joyful Noise' nor heard of the artist behind it, the rapper Flame, real name Marcus Gray - before they started work on their song and recording. Gray's team argued that there had been many opportunities for Perry and her co-writers to to have heard 'Joyful Noise' and argued that whilst the copying may not have been deliberate, her team had subconsciously infringed the earlier work. Gray's legal team also also pointed to the similarities between the two songs - each share a distinct musical phrase consisting of four C notes followed by two B notes. Perry's legal team argued that this was a very common musical phrase that couldn't possibly be protected by copyright. Luke added that if the court did indeed decide that a musical phrase of this kind enjoyed copyright protection, it could set a dangerous precedent that would impede the music making process.
They're trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone," said Katy's lawyer Christine Lepera during her closing arguments in court last week, but the jury has accepted that this was copyright infringement. The case now goes to a penalty phase, where the jury will decide how much Perry and other defendants owe for copyright infringement. Jurors found all six songwriters and all four corporations that released and distributed the songs were liable, including Perry and Sarah Hudson, who wrote the song’s words, Juicy J, who wrote the rap he provided for the song. Other defendants found liable included Capitol Records as well as Perry’s producers: Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Cirkut, who came up with the song’s beat.
A wide array of artists – including Korn, Tool, Sean Lennon, Linkin Park and Jason Mraz have joined the amicus brief submitted in the ongoing ‘Stairway To Heaven’ case, supporting the British rock band in their arguments and calling on the judges in the Ninth Circuit appeals court to uphold the earlier ruling that Led Zeppelin did copy ‘Taurus’ when they wrote their 1971 classic. In total 123 artists support the amicus brief saying that if the original ruling in the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ case is overturned it could create a dangerous precedent that would be hugely detrimental to songwriting and an assumption that “trivial and commonplace similarities between two songs could be considered to constitute the basis for a finding of infringement” and that this would confuse artists, stifle creativity, and result in “excessive and unwarranted” litigation by artists and lawyers seeking to profit from ambiguities in the law.
Rolling Stone magazine published the article Why All Your Favorite Songs Are Suddenly Being Sued? asking asking why is so much music being hit with lawsuits, in a trend a trend that shows no sign of slowing. You can find that here and more comment and analysis here (from Professor Edward Lee in the Washington Post)
Major US broadcasters ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC Universal have filed a lawsuit against an upstart online TV service offering free over-the-air digital TV service. The suit filed in U.S. District Court in New York alleges Locast owner, New York-based non-profit advocacy group Sports Fans Coalition violates broadcaster copyrights streaming content to users for free. The suit is similar to 2013 litigation brought by studios against Aereo, the defunct OTT service that transmitted digital signals to subscribers via over-the-air antennas. The litigation also pits broadcasters against AT&T, which owns and operates WarnerMedia — although the telecom is not party to the lawsuit. More here and here.
And more from the US: Bloomberg Law reports that a battle over banana costumes continues in federal court with one manufacturer under order to stop selling full-body banana suits because they likely infringe another’s valid copyright. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a lower court’s order stopping Kangaroo Manufacturing Inc. from selling banana costumes that are confusingly similar to plaintiff Rasta Imposta’s copyrighted design. Rasta’s copyright is valid because it didn’t “monopolize the underlying idea” of a banana, the court said. More here.
And finally - copyright notices - serious business yes? It seems not always! Techdirt have been doing some digging and have found some very amusing notices that certainly do not fit in with the prescribed formats: How about ""No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, cookie jar or spare room... Unless you want to write the whole thing out in green crayon, in which case feel free." and "This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, carried across the country by relay, fired into space, turned upside down, eaten... On pain of death."
Kraftwerk Image Nigel Hardy https://www.flickr.com/photos/92352391@N00/35441036106