Jay Z fighting legal battle that redefines copyright laws

While many may think that the use of copyrighted samples in music was settled long ago, Jay Z is leading the charge to redefine how the system works, as well as expose what is the musical equivalent of a “patent troll.” His legal team released some very strong words in response to their ongoing lawsuit involving the use of a single, sampled word on “Run This Town,” as the entire case boils down to two letters. Literally.

The case made on behalf of TufAmerica claims that the sample of the word “oh” from Eddie Bo’s “Hook & Sling” was not agreed to, and that Rock-A-Fella has failed to pay any royalties or usage rights.

TufAmerica actually has a track record for this exact lawsuit, having gone after the Beastie Boys for sampling the seminal go-go funk group, Trouble Funk on a number of their sounds. In that case, TufAmerica lost the overall case, but there was a financial agreement to handle a few specific intricacies of the suit.

In yet another almost identical case, TufAmerica managed to win, though the final ruling remains heavily debated. In that case, the judge ruled that “Even when a small part of a sound recording is sampled, the part taken is something of value.” Most law scholars saw this ruling as a massive stretch on the part of Judge Ralph Guy, as the decision contained a single phrase that in many ways ignores the very base of copyright law in the sentence, “Get a license or do not sample. We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way.”

Yet Jay Z and his legal team remain undeterred, as they are likely going to argue that the sample in question is de minimis, and therefore falls outside of copyright law. As they have written, “…words and short phrases are simply not protectable under the Copyright Act” before adding, “…the alleged copying here of a sound lasting a fraction of a second in Plaintiffs Works is de minimis and thus not actionable.”

Oddly, Jay Z and his team have completely ignored any sort of “fair use” argument, and this may be in an effort to set a clearly legal precedent to prevent further frivolous lawsuits such as these. If the court rules on the side of Jay, it will likely open an entirely new Pandora’s Box of how to handle sampling within the world of mix-shows and electronic music; and in many ways will set the precedent for the next generation of music copyright.

Watch the video for “Run This Town” and try to catch the sample:

Joel Freimark hosts a daily music-related webseries HERE and you can follow his daily music musings and suggestions HERE as well.

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