(CN) – Siding with electronic music pioneer Kraftwerk, the European Court of Justice ruled Monday that unauthorized sampling of even brief clips of music can constitute copyright infringement as long as they are recognizable.
German rapper Moses Pelham sampled a two-second rhythm sequence from the 1977 Kraftwerk song “Metall auf Metall” in a song he produced for another German rapper, spurring a copyright lawsuit from Kraftwerk members Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider-Esleben in 2004.
German courts have found copyright infringement, overturned a judgment of infringement and found the shortness of the sample to be a factor. Finally in 2017, the German court hearing the case on remand asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on the matter.
The Grand Chamber of the Luxembourg-based court sided Monday with Kraftwerk, saying that sampling music without authorization can infringe on a music producer’s copyrights.
“The phonogram producers’ exclusive right under [EU law] to reproduce and distribute his or her phonogram allows him to prevent another person from taking a sound sample, even if very short, of his or her phonogram for the purposes of including that sample in another phonogram,” the ruling states.
But the judges emphasized that sampled music be recognizable in its original form to be afforded copyright protection.
“Where a user, in exercising the freedom of the arts, takes a sound sample from a phonogram in order to embody it, in a modified form unrecognisable to the ear in another phonogram, that is not a ‘reproduction,’” the court said.
Monday’s ruling comes seven months after an EU magistrate judge weighed in with a non-binding advisory opinion that also found sampling infringes the rights of the creator when the sample is taken without permission, regardless of its size.
The song at the center of the case, “Nur Mir” by German rapper Sabrina Setlur, came out in 1997 on an album that’s sold more than 250,000 copies.