The Beastie Boys are no strangers to lawsuits. With a back catalog as layered with samples as theirs is, it comes with the territory. Still they’ve managed to handle their backstory quite well, like when they came under scrutiny for a sample from “Choir” by James Newton that they used in “Flute Loop” in 1994. To this day I’m not really sure how clips from “The End,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and “The Ocean” have remained in place without checks being sent to The Beatles’ and Led Zeppelin’s estates, but all the power to them for pulling it off.
Still despite that, lesser known artists have periodically come out of the woodwork to cry foul on early Beastie material, and in a most unfortunately timed lawsuit filed on May 3, one day before Adam Yauch‘s death, label Tuf America pressed charges against the Boys for samples taken from Trouble Funk’s “Say What” and “Drop the Bomb,” the former which was used on “Licensed to Ill”‘s “The New Style” and “Hold It Now, Hit It,” and the latter on “Paul Boutique”‘s “Car Thief” and “Shadrach.”
AllHipHop.com states that a sound analysis was run on all four songs to confirm their usage, and they will be “seeking a trial to determine the amount of punitive and exemplary damages, if any.”
Chances are that the charges are valid — both albums were released in the ’80s when sampling was still a new format and various hip-hop artists were using the method liberally with little issue. The lawsuit that sank sampling considerably was Gilbert O’Sullivan’s suit against Beastie-buddy Biz Markie’s “Alone Again” in 1991 which took its hook from O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally).” Since then, even deep crate diggers like “Paul’s Boutique” producers The Dust Brothers have moved towards traditional production as opposed to sample-based beatmaking due to the financial difficulty that comes with the genre (Beck’s “Odelay” and “Guero” and the “Fight Club” soundtrack have been their main writing credits in the years since their work with the Beatsie Boys).
I suppose a crime is a crime, but honestly, in the field of sampling, there should really be a cap for how long you can wait before suing over misuse. For instance, Drive-Thru Records targeted Above the Law, King Tee, and Leaders of the New School last year. When The Heavy used the song “Let a Woman Be a Woman, Let a Man Be a Man” by Dyke and the Blazers for the song “How You Like Me Now?”, the owners of the rights to the songs made on Drive-Thru took notice mainly due to the high popularity of The Heavy track (it being used in “The Fighter” as well as a few commercials) which led the long defunct label into going after any artist that had used the song before, with the three aforementioned cases having used the sample over 20 years ago.
What exactly is fair? If several decades pass without notice, can a plaintiff really claim damage? Is it necessary for licensing fees to be so high? In this writer’s opinion, the damage caused to the art of sampling by record companies is a much worse damage to music than the artists that are sampling from them.