Talk about ill timing: Just one day before Adam Yauch died, he and other members of Beastie Boys were sued for illegally sampling music.
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The claims are made in a federal lawsuit filed in New York federal court by TufAmerica, which says it is the exclusive administrator of the recordings “Say What” and “Drop the Bomb,” performed by the group Trouble Funk.
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On May 3, TufAmerica dropped a bomb of trouble on the three Beasties along with Universal Music, Brooklyn Dust Music and Capitol Records with allegations that copyrighted recordings were illicitly used on the Beasties’ 1986 album “Licensed to Ill” and the 1989 album “Paul’s Boutique.”
It’s unlikely that Yauch, aka MCA, was ever served papers in this case before he died, yet the case represents a bit of curious timing.
The sound recordings were created more than 20 years ago, which figures to represent a coming battle over whether the statute of limitations had passed on the plaintiff’s claims.
TufAmerica says it was never disclosed to them that the sample had been used by Beastie Boys and that the “defendants purposely concealed the integration” of the samples.
The lawsuit also could represent a battle over whether Beastie Boys’ work made transformative fair use of the plaintiff’s copyrights or represented de minimis infringement, if they indeed used them.
According to the complaint, “The manner in which the ‘Say What’ sample was incorporated as a part of the words and music that make up the ‘Shadrach’ recording effectively concealed to the casual listener the fact that the ‘Say What’ sample was part of ‘Shadrach.'”
“Shadrach” was one of the songs on “Paul’s Boutique,” an album produced by the Dust Brothers and celebrated for its artful mix of some 300 samples. In fact, upon Yauch’s passing, some have commented that there would never be another album like it thanks to more vigorous copyright enforcement since the album first came out.
Perhaps copyright law isn’t the only thing prompting lawsuits in this day and age. Advances in investigative technology seem to matter as well. The lawsuit continues:
“Only after conducting a careful audio analysis of ‘Shadrach’ that included isolating the suspected portion of the recording and comparing it with various parts of ‘Say What’ was TufAmerica able to determine that ‘Shadrach’ incorporates the ‘Say What’ sample.”
Capitol Records re-released “Paul’s Boutique” in “remixed and remastered” form in 2009.
In addition to “Shadrach,” the plaintiffs say that the album also featured an unauthorized “Drop the Bomb” sample on the track “Car Thief” and that the “Drop the Bomb” sample was also used on the “Licensed to Ill” songs “Hold It Now Hit It” and “The New Style.”
TufAmerica is suing for copyright infringement, unjust enrichment and misappropriation. The plaintiff wants a permanent injunction enjoining the defendants from continuing to infringe the samples, plus punitive damages.