Illegal Music

The war on sampling.


This article is plagiarized. Every word in it has been brazenly "sampled" from a book, the dictionary, and "remixed" into a news story.

That's a pretty silly way to define plagiarism, but it's not far from the logic of a September decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. In Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films, the court held that the rap group NWA committed copyright infringement when it used a looped three-note, 1.5-second riff from the Funkadelic track "Get off Your Ass and Jam" for its song "100 Miles and Runnin'."

The practice of crafting new musical works from bits and pieces of older songs has a long history, from the groundbreaking aural decoupage of comedian Dickie Goodman's 1956 single "The Flying Saucer" to Vanilla Ice's somewhat less inspired lift from David Bowie's "Under Pressure" for his 1990 hit "Ice Ice Baby." The 6th Circuit's decision held that all such borrowing is infringing, rejecting the argument that courts should consider whether the sample is significant or de minimis, and holding that "even when a small part of a sound recording is sampled, the part taken is something of value."

"Get a license," the court instructed artists, "or do not sample."

A group called Downhill Battle has organized a protest against the ruling, encouraging people to submit 30-second songs using the same 1.5-second sample at issue in the case for an online compilation called Three Notes and Runnin'.