A De Minimis Victory in Hip Hop

BridgeportWasDeminimisLong story short: unauthorized sampling in hip hop has been illegal since 1991 when a district court ruled that sampling constituted copyright infringement no matter how small the sample (Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc.).  This ruling was reaffirmed in 2005 by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films. These two court cases, each of which ruled against the hip hop artist defendant dramatically changed the course of hip hop. The original way hip hop music was made was deemed illegal by the judicial system.

Generally in copyright cases there is something called a De Minimis defense, which allows the defendent to argue that that piece of the original work that they ‘borrowed’ is so small and insignificant that copyright law does not apply. However the rulings in the two cases mentioned above demonstrated that in practice there is no De Minis defense for hip hop music made via sampling.
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“Five Useful Articles” covers TufAmerica v. Jay-Z

The email newsletter Five Useful Articles, sent out by the amazing Sarah Jeong & Parker Higgins, has some pithy coverage of the TufAmerica v. WB Music Corp case.

The following is an excerpt from “The Grinch Who Stole ©hristmas: 5 Useful Articles — Vol. 2 Issue 10” December 11, 2014

Run This Takedown

Jay Z has managed to brush off a copyright suit concerning a “loudly shouted, buoyantly exuberant ‘Oh!'” that was sampled 42 times for the song “Run This Town.” (See our previous coverage here). The Oh! was originally from a funk record now owned by TufAmerica, which has made a nice little business out of buying up the rights to old sound recordings and then suing people.
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