Composers, Sampling and Copyright: Does “Thou Shalt Not Steal” Infringe on Creativity?
132 Music Building, free
Reception to follow
A new bright-line rule in copyright law in the Sixth Circuit digital sampling case of Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films (decided in 2004 and rearticulated in June 2005) demonstrates little understanding or knowledge of the history of composition or the methodology of composers.
In Bridgeport Music, the owner of a copyrighted sound recording brought an infringement action against a motion picture producer. The producer had utilized a song in the film’s soundtrack that had incorporated a looped, two-second sample from the owner’s copyrighted recording. At trial, the district court found no infringement of copyright because “no reasonable jury, even one familiar with the works of [the recording artist], would recognize the source of the sample without having been told of its source.” However, on appeal, the Sixth Circuit – invoking Exodus 20:15 (“Thou shalt not steal”) - declared to all composers “Get a license or do not sample. We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way.”
Digital sampling and issues of copyright infringement continues to spark fervent debate; unfortunately, the legal literature and court decisions such as that of the Sixth Circuit in Bridgeport Music tend to ignore or misunderstand the practice and precedent of composition as it has existed in Western practice for over a thousand years. Sampling is merely a newer technique in the continuing development of that practice. Limiting the use of that technique runs counter to the history of the art form, inhibits creative activity and does not promote the original intent of copyright law.
This presentation outlines for composers and musicians - by a composer who is also a practicing attorney - the current status of the law on this issue. As a part of that outline, composers and musicians will learn more about the legal doctrines of de minimis use and fair use, doctrines that have historically played a significant role in defining the parameters of U.S. copyright law.
In addition to being a composer (earning degrees in composition from the Yale School of Music, Duke University and the Mannes College of Music), Jeremy Beck holds a J.D. from the University of Louisville and is licensed to practice in all the federal and state courts in Kentucky. This presentation is based on his article, “Music Composition, Sound Recordings, and Digital Sampling in the 21st Century: a Legislative and Legal Framework to Balance Competing Interests”, published in Volume 13, Issue 1 (Fall 2005) of the UCLA Entertainment Law Review. The article won Second Prize in The Santa Clara Computer & High Technology Law Journal 2005 Comment Contest.