IP Law: Beastie Boys Sued for Sampling
May 18 (Bloomberg Law) — On May 4, Adam Yauch – better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys – died at 47 after a battle with cancer, but his legal legacy lives on. The day before his death, the group was sued in federal court by the publisher for Trouble Funk, which claims the Beastie Boys illegally sampled the band’s songs. Indeed, the Beastie Boys were famous for using hundreds of sonic samples in their critically-acclaimed 1989 album Paul’s Boutique.
This is legal déjà vu for the Beasties. In 2003, the Ninth Circuit decided that the group’s six-second, three-note sample from jazz flutist James Newton was so small that it did not constitute infringement. Since that case, other federal courts have decided the opposite way in music sampling cases, but the issue has never reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
To avoid litigation, most record companies now license samples. And many legal scholars believe a major record company wouldn’t release a record like Paul’s Boutique because of the high cost of licensing hundreds of samples. Back in 2004, when asked by Wired magazine about unlicensed samples on Paul’s Boutique, MCA said “I think there’s a statute of limitations on that stuff.” Now his former bandmates are about to find out.