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Court Upholds Award Over Rap Sampling

(CN) - The 6th Circuit upheld an $88,980 award for Bridgeport Music over claims that the hip-hop song "D.O.G. in Me" infringed the copyright on George Clinton's "Atomic Dog."

The underlying lawsuit is one of several hundred actions brought by Bridgeport Music and Southfield Music over rap songs that allegedly sample copyrighted compositions without permission.

Bridgeport said "D.O.G. in Me," performed by Public Announcement and owned by UMG Recordings, sampled elements from funk musician George Clinton's 1982 hit "Atomic Dog."

According to the testimony of songwriter David Spradley, "Atomic Dog" was composed spontaneously, after Clinton "had been partying pretty heavily" and was "feeling pretty good."

Experts testified that "Atomic Dog," and other works by Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, are among the most popular works sampled by rap and hip-hop artists.

Bridgeport said "D.O.G. in Me" swiped the refrain "Bow wow wow, yippie yo, yippie yea," repetition of the word "dog" in a low tone, and the sound of rhythmic panting.

A jury awarded Bridgeport $88,980, and UMG appealed, claiming jurors should have been instructed that the word "dog" and the panting did not violate copyright, because they weren't original. UMG also argued that jurors should have been told to consider the songs as a whole, noting the different mood and theme of each.

But the federal appeals court in Cincinnati said Bridgeport had cleared the "low" standard for originality.

"In this case, expert testimony presented at trial was sufficient to permit the jury to conclude that Clinton's use of the three disputed elements in 'Atomic Dog' met this minimal standard," Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey wrote.

The court rejected UMG's claim that any copied elements are protected by the fair-use doctrine as a tribute to Clinton's music.

"Works that purport to be an homage to the copyrighted work may nevertheless weaken the market for licensed derivative works," Daughtrey wrote, adding that Clinton wasn't acknowledged in the credits or liner notes.

"Given the fact that 'Atomic Dog' is one of the most frequently sampled compositions of the Funk era," the court noted, "Bridgeport could lose substantial licensing revenues if it were deprived of its right to license content such as that used by UMG."

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