Beastie Boys win lawsuit from copyright troll
While most eyes are focused on the fallout from the “Blurred Lines” legal decision, a New York judge has spent the last few years considering a similarly important case concerning the Beastie Boys 1989 masterpiece “Paul’s Boutique” and the samples used therein. In a lawsuit filed by TufAmerica back in May of 2012, they alleged that the group did not have the rights to use the samples on the album, and that they [TufAmerica] were owed a massive sum of money. Judge Alison Nathan disagreed, granting the Beastie Boys summary judgment, basically saying the plaintiffs had no real legal standing for their case.
If the name TufAmerica rings a bell, that’s because in the past few years, they’ve also attempted to sue LL Cool J, Frank Ocean and Jay Z among others, with the Jay Z suit also going in the direct of the artist back in December. It is due to their rather shady tactics and minimal legal grounds that has led to many in the industry referring to TufAmerica as the musical equivalent of patent trolls, and it didn’t help their case that the company took more than two decades to file against “Paul’s Boutique,” thus falling well outside of the 3 year statute of limitations.
The point of contention with “Paul’s Boutique” stems from samples of the iconic Washington, DC go-go funk band Trouble Funk, as a pair of samples from their catalog are found on the Beastie record. Fifteen years ago, TufAmerica reached a deal with two of the three Trouble Funk writers to administer copyrights, but without the third, Judge Nathan stated they, “could at best convey a non-exclusive license to TufAmerica.” In short: TufAmerica didn’t have the proper rights to sue.
Furthermore, TufAmerica acquired a secondary deal with the third writer (James Avery) in 2012, but even that agreement, “transfers ‘nothing more than the bare right to sue” and, “cannot be the basis for standing under the Copyright Act” write Judge Nathan. While the TufAmerica team attempted to sway the Judge with some clever wordplay, it ultimately failed, and will hopefully drive the message home that further cases will see similar defeat.