(CN) – A federal judge refused to dismiss some copyright claims against the Beastie Boys relating to songs they sampled in their first two hit albums from the 1980s.
The New York City rap group consisted of Adam Horovitz (King Ad-Rock), Michael Diamond (Mike D) and the late Adam Yauch (MCA). They exploded onto the hip-hop scene with the 1986 album “Licensed to Ill,” which featured the hit song, “Fight for Your Right to Party.”
In a 2012 complaint , TufAmerica alleged that songs in “Licensed to Ill” and the 1989 follow-up album “Paul’s Boutique” illegally sampled the music of ’80s R&B group Trouble Funk, whose rights TufAmerica owned.
The songs in question are “The New Style” and “Hold It Now Hit It” from “Licensed to Ill” and “Shadrach,” “Car Thief” and “B-Boy Bouillaibaise/AWOL” from “Paul’s Boutique.”
TufAmerica complained that the Beasties illegally sampled four Trouble Funk songs a total of six times on the five Beastie Boys songs for a total of 20 seconds. The four sampled Trouble Funk songs are “Say What,” “Drop the Bomb,” “Let’s Get Small,” and “Good to Go.”
Moving to dismiss, the Beasties, Universal Music Publishing, Brooklyn Dust Music and Capitol Records countered that TufAmerica had failed to make an actionable case.
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan noted Tuesday that judging the issue of copyright infringement first required a determination of how to compare the song samples.
“The real question at this stage – more so than the question of how to label the relevant test – is whether (as to each sample) plaintiff has plausibly alleged that the sample is quantitatively and qualitatively important to the original work such that the fragmented similarity becomes sufficiently substantial for the use to become an infringement,” Nathan wrote (parentheses in original).
A sample of “Say What” is played at the point in “Shadrach” where the Beasties say, “And we love the hot butter, ‘say what,’ the popcorn.”
Nathan found that the infringement claim may stick since “the court cannot conclude that the sample used in ‘Shadrach’ is substantively insignificant to ‘Say What.'”
A musical sequence from the Trouble Funk song “Let’s Get Small” used in “Hold It Now Hit It” was also significant enough to survive the dismiss motion.
Nathan did dismiss the four remaining copyright claims and limited TufAmerica’s surviving claims to the three-year statutory period, which in this case began on May 12, 2009.
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