Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Goodness gracious!

Filed under : Music
On May 9, 2012
At 12:45 am
Comments : 7

And one more Beastie related thing. If you are like me and are a nut, A NUT, for music copyright cases (I don’t know why, I have been obsessed with this since I was literally a child looking things up in the library; I have written about this before), there are few more interesting cases than Newton v. Diamond. This is the case regarding the sample you hear right at the beginning of Pass the Mic and underlying the rest of the song, which is by an obscure (to me, anyway) jazz flutist named James Newton. It’s a really fascinating case both from a legal and a human standpoint. There’s no question that the snippet of Choir, Newton’s song, is heard within Pass the Mic because the sample was cleared. The band licensed the rights to the actual performance, though, and not the composition which is a separate thing. So, one, the song someone wrote as a series of notes on paper that anyone can read and play, and two, someone’s recorded performance of it. They felt the notes in question were not unique enough to be a copyrighted work and never bothered to license it. The court agreed and Newton lost.

But more than legal issues, there is always the human drama of someone who has written something that you’ve never heard of, who probably has a day job (Newton is also a professor of music), who writes something that becomes part of a huge, successful enterprise larger than himself and doesn’t get to share the spoils. Often, the most famous thing about this person is their case against the rock star (see my post about UB40 and Deborah Banks. Deborah who?). Newton, from what I’ve read, was outraged by this, especially after the Beastie Boys’ legal team then went after him for their costs in the case.

In a case like this, whenever I hear the song after I read about the lawsuit, I am haunted by the sample forever. And this sample is somewhat haunting as it is. I think this is why it’s my favorite Beastie Boys song. Or maybe it’s the way they say the title of this post right after.

Actually, it could be a tie with Paul Revere, which I also like for personal reasons. Here are my reasons. Once, in the first year of working at my last label, the general manager of the label, who was (and is) a powerful woman in the music business, happened to walk by my office while it was on the radio. In a perfect moment, she popped in and rapped the line that came on just at that second, “I’m Mike D and I get respect!” It was kind of awesome and to this day, I always hear that line in her voice.

Or maybe it’s Hey Ladies because it’s funky.

If you are the same kind of nut as I am, here are some links:

This is the greatest repository of music copyright cases. Do not start with it if you have somewhere to go that day.

This is the entry on Newton v. Diamond.

Here is a snippet from Pass the Mic and one from Choir to compare. Pass the Mic has some other interesting samples, as well, but none with court cases.

Here is the greatest book you will ever read on a music copyright case and its human drama: a case that dragged on for years, bankrupted a record label, and involved some of the biggest names in the music industry. The story is told entirely in documents, both legal and otherwise.

Title comes from:

Edited May 9 to add:
And it goes on. About 14 hours after I wrote this there was this news:
Beastie Boys Sued Over Decades-Old Sampling One Day Before MCA’s Death

Also, see this fascinating article from Slate on the topic:
Was Paul’s Boutique Illegal? How dumb court decisions and bad laws have made it all but impossible for musicians to sample the way the Beastie Boys used to.


7 Comments for this post

Mo says

GREAT. Just what I needed: something else to spend countless hours doing instead of any of the things I should be doing. This stuff was fascinating when I took Entertainment Law in the early 90s, and no less fascinating to me now. I do remember, though, that Paul’s Boutique would have been the most expensive album ever made, if they’d had to pay for the rights to all the samples. I really need that that book.

Becca says

If I could have another life, because these two careers were pretty great, I’d be an entertainment lawyer.

I’m surprised to hear that about Paul’s Boutique because, even though it was before the Biz Markie case when everyone became careful, you’d think there would have been more lawsuits relating to it if the samples hadn’t been cleared.

Beth says

I haven’t heard “Bittersweet Symphony” the same since I read about that case. Fascinating.

Mo says

Aw, Becca, isn’t Beth cute using an example from 1998? Beth, were you born yet when Paul’s Boutique came out?

Actually, according to my official source for legal research (Wikipedia), most of the samples on PB were cleared, they just got them at bargain-basement prices because it was pre-Biz decision.

I thought I wanted to do entertainment law as well, until I learned that actual “entertainment lawyers” are more deal-negotiators than law-practicers. For the really legal stuff they get specialty lawyers, like intellectual property. IP was really fun.

Instead, I’ve decided I want to be a DJ like Danger Mouse or Girl Talk, mashing things up whenever possible. I’m still young and hip, right? (ahem, please ignore my comment about Beth’s age, above)

Beth says

I try to confine all of my legal conversation to things like “No, just because you found it on Google Images doesn’t meant you own it.”

Also, Starbucks baristas don’t understand my Friends jokes anymore.


TamTam says

Becca, you are the most diversely interesting person in my life.

Becca says

Bittersweet Symphony always makes me think, “what were you thinking????”

Mo, that was the case at my label. But contracts were also fascinating in terms of what could be exploited, what rights artists were allowed to retain, etc. The woman in the office next to mine who cleared samples and listened for them was a paralegal, actually.

Also, see my late-breaking news edit at the end of the post!

Tam, you need to get out more! :D