Newton v. Diamond is a court case that, similar to Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films, revolves around de minimis sampling. The case involves the rap group, the Beastie Boys, and accomplished jazz flutist, James Newton. The Beastie Boys, in their song “Pass the Mic,” sampled a very small segment of Newton’s recording, “Choir.” The sample was a six-second, three-note snippet of Newton playing the flute. The Beastie Boys acquired a license for the actual sound recording from a record company, but they didn’t obtain one for the underlying musical composition from Newton. The court held that the three-note segment of the composition of “Choir” could not be copyrighted because it lacked requisite originality; further, it stated that if the segment had been copyrightable, the Beastie Boy’s use was de minimis.
The analysis on de minimis, unlike in the Bridgeport case, was on the musical composition, not the sound recording. First, the three-note sequence wasn’t the heart of the work and was insubstantial as it appeared once within the four and one-half minute song. Even more important, though, is that the note sequence in question—C – D flat – C, over a held C note—doesn’t contain sufficient originality to be awarded copyright protection. There are only so many notes, chords, and chord progressions available to musicians. Therefore, some of these basic notes and progressions can’t be “owned” by anyone.
With this type of court decision and interpretation of copyright and de minimis laws, the need for certain sample clearances becomes void. Along with the outcome of the Bridgeport case, if I sampled a one-note snippet of a song, I would still need licensing from whoever owns the master recordings. With the Newton v. Diamond case, however, I would now only need licensing from the record company, for instance, and wouldn’t need to seek approval from a composer or music publishing company. The composer doesn’t own the rights to certain notes, and therefore I can sample certain compositions.
This is an important differentiation for me, or anyone who samples for that matter. It is definitely something to take into consideration for my songs that sample and any future song that I produce. It would allow me to sample small segments and only have to clear them with record companies, saving me time and money. This is an interesting wrinkle in copyright law that is certainly relevant and applicable.
“Into the Grey” provides an excellent overview, history, and analysis of The Grey Album. This album stands as arguably the most famous and most controversial instance of mash-ups. This text covers what The Grey Album was, how it was produced, the response of record and publishing companies, and the subsequent response by disobedient mash-up and fair use advocates. Further, legal implications and defense possibilities of sampling are discussed, but in the specific context of mash-ups.
The Grey Album, produced by Brain Burton a.k.a. DJ Danger Mouse, is a mash-up album that uses the full vocal content of Jay-Z’s Black Album mixed with instrumentals that can all be traced to the Beatles’ White Album. Every drum hit and instrumental chord was sampled from the Beatles’ album and used as beats for Jay-Z’s vocals to seamlessly rap over. Burton’s mash-up album caught like wildfire, popping up in record stores and on countless websites. The issue, however, was that Burton never received permission from any copyright owners of the Beatles or Jay-Z.
As a result, the Beatles’ record and publishing companies sent Burton a cease and desist letter, explaining how he was infringing their copyrights. He complied and was never brought to court. After only a brief look at the exclusive rights of copyright owners, it is beyond doubt that had the case been brought to court, The Grey Album fully infringed on their rights. Discontent fans didn’t take kindly to this realization though—they organized a day of “civil disobedience” called “Grey Tuesday,” in which hundreds of websites hosted The Grey Album for download.
The author suggests using de minimis laws as a defense, but as we know, this might no longer stand up. Instead, the only viable defense is fair use. This would unlikely be successful because although The Grey Album is highly transformative, it is a commercial product and not intended to criticize or parody. The core artistic work is also appropriated. And since copyright owners enjoy the rights to control adaptations through licenses—where they can make money by choosing to license—The Grey Album might negatively affect the ability to license further samples, and therefore is of potential harm.
This comment is an excellent resource for my project. It first provides a thorough overview of The Grey Album and following episodes. This albums stands as an example of what would potentially happen to me if I chose to release my mash-ups. More important, however, is the discussion of fair use defense for mash-ups and the opinion that it would never hold up in court. This addresses a potential defense for my mash-ups and why it might not work.
Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films is a court case that has had a major impact on the music industry, specifically with regards to the future of digital sampling. The case revolves around the use of a sample from the song “Get Off Your Ass and Jam” by George Clinton and the Funkadelics, whose copyright is held by Bridgeport. The sample in question comes from a three-note, four-second guitar riff in “Get Off.” N.W.A.’s song, “100 Miles and Runnin’,” takes two seconds from this snippet, lowers the pitch, and loops it to extend 16 beats. This song was then included on the soundtrack for a Dimension Film’s movie, I Got the Hook Up, which Bridgeport Music then claimed to infringe on its copyright. In a district court, Dimenion Films won on grounds that the alleged infringement was de minimis, and hence not actionable. When brought before a federal court, however, the decision was reversed.
The court used the points on derivative work from Sections 106 and 114 of the US Copyright Law as reference for their decision. Because a sound copyright holder has the right to authorize the rearrangement, remix, and alteration of its recording, the copyright owner also then has the exclusive right to “sample” its recording. From this it was made clear: the judge announced, “Get a license or do not sample.” Grand Upright Music v. Warner Bros case sided with copyright holders to an extent; but, after this interpretation, even the de minimis defense became null. The decision supports that the usage of any section of copyrighted work, regardless of length or clarity, needs clearance. The court analyzed that even when something small is taken from a sound recording, what was taken is still something of value. Further, the copyright holder of a sound recording doesn’t just own the “song,” but rather owns all of the fixed sounds in that recording.
The case had a monumental impact on music, copyright, and sampling. There now exists a “bright-line test,” where any sampling is infringement. This affects any producer or artist who wants to sample music in a song from here on out. Lengthy and costly negotiation and litigation will be necessary to sample, even just to take a two-second snippet. In my project I have two songs with samples. In one I rearrange a hefty portion of the original recording, which would have qualified as infringement after the Grand Upright v. Warner Brothers case. But in the second one, I sample a song while altering it so much that the source is unrecognizable. With the Bridgeport decision, though, there now stands a heavy consequence on my song and the type of sampling that I employed.