Friday 11 May 2012

A case of bad timing for the Beastie Boys

Just as the sad death of the Beastie Boys' Adam 'MCA' Yauch from cancer was announced, aged just 47, Tuf America, Inc announced a new lawsuit against the band and  co-defendants Universal Music, Brooklyn Dust Music and Capitol Records. Tuf America  administers the rights to the recordings of Trouble Funk's catalogue, including the group's 1982 funk classics, "Drop the Bomb" and "Say What" and the federal lawsuit relates to two songs on the Beastie Boys' debut album, 'Licensed To Ill', and two more on the follow-up, 'Paul's Boutique'. The company claims that the group illegally sampled the two Trouble Funk songs. The 20 years delay in pursuing the litigation is partly linked to the fact Tuf America only gained control of the copyrights in Trouble Funk's catalogue in 1999, the additional ten year wait seemingly being down to the fact it's only recently that the label noticed the alleged infringements.

The law suit doesn't surprise Kembrew McLeod, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa, and co-author, with economist and researcher Peter DiCola, of the book "Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling" who says  "'Paul’s Boutique' and other albums of that era are like ticking legal time bombs" adding "For instance, in 2005, Run DMC was sued by the Knack for using 'My Sharona' for its song 'It’s Tricky.' And they were sued 20 years after the fact." This reality is compounded by the fact that each time "Paul's Boutique" is issued in a new format, or repackaged, the statute of limitations on filing an infraction claim starts anew at year zero. In his book McLeod and DiCola analyse the samples in both "Paul's Boutique" and Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet," two classics of hip-hop's sample era, and estimated the cost of legally producing them and licensing the samples: With all samples intact, McLeod explains "Based on the number of sales, both albums would have lost money per unit, and 'Paul’s Boutique' would have lost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $20 million -- and we were being extremely conservative with our estimates."

A separate article again asks if the Beastie Boys’ seminal works could ever have been produced under the current sampling and clearance regimes in the USA – and asks whether the law should change?  

The Beastie Boys were triumphant in one sampling claim when they defeated a challenge from composer and flautist James Newton who claimed that despite a valid licence for the sample of the sound recording of his work, the band had also sampled his composition : Newton v Diamond 349 F.3d 591 (9th Cir 2003). 

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