• Beastie Boys Sampling Did Not Infringe on Composer's Copyright
  • December 3, 2003
  • Law Firm: Hall Dickler LLP - Office
  • On November 4, 2003 the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Beastie Boy's repeated sampling from a jazz recording did not amount to infringement of the composer's copyright in the composition itself. The case concerned a six-second, three-note cut from a 1981 recording of the jazz song named "Choir." The recording was of a performance by plaintiff James W. Newton, who both performed and composed the song. The Beastie Boys repeated the sampled segment a number of times during their song.

    The Beastie Boy's expert, Dr. Lawrence Ferrara, called it a "common, trite, and generic three-note sequence."

    The Ninth Circuit dismissed the copyright infringement claims on the grounds that there was no infringement because there was minimal use of the sample. Judge Mary Schroeder wrote in the appellate court's November 4, 2003 decision. "Newton is in a weak position to argue that the similarities between the works are substantial, or that an average audience would recognize the appropriation."

    Why This Matters: Sampling is quite common in music, particularly rap. On that basis, the decision is not surprising and supportive of the creative genre of rap. The case, however, may also have application to sampling in advertising. The court's logic should have as much application to sampling of music in advertising as it does in rap. Time will tell whether this case will ultimately stand for that proposition but it does give some precedent upon which the advertising industry may rely.