Who Owns the Beat?

A few seconds on a hit record can add up to a few years in a courtroom. Just ask TuffAmerica, a New York label that on Feb. 7 sued Universal Music Group over a sample used on Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids."

After more than three decades of litigation, music lawyers know that even the smallest lift of a previously released song typically requires licenses from the owner. They also know that artists often press their luck without a license, hoping the sample is minuscule enough to qualify as "fair use."

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