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Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 383 F.3d 390 (6th Cir. 2004) (full-text).
Factual Background Edit
The case arose from a three-note guitar riff (approximately two seconds) taken from a 1970s hit by George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and used by rap group NWA. The pitch of the sample was lowered, and the riff was repeated and extended to sixteen beats. The sample appeared five times in the song.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
The trial court had dismissed the claim, stating that the sampling did not “rise to the level of a legally cognizable appropriation” because:
- The sample sounded entirely different from the original music.
- Only a small amount of copying was involved.
- NWA’s song is very different from the Clinton’s song.
Appellate Court Proceedings Edit
The appellate court said that the de minimis copying rule does not apply to sound recordings, since the copyright on sound recordings is limited. Other types of copyrighted works are protected from reproduction of any significant aspect of the works, while sound recordings are only protected against unauthorized duplication of the actual recording.
“The world at large is free to imitate or simulate” the recorded performance.
The court relied upon 17 U.S.C. § 114(b), which gives a sound recording copyright owner the exclusive right “to duplicate the sound recording” and also gives the copyright owner the exclusive right create derivative works “in which the actual sounds fixed in the sound recording are rearranged, remixed, or otherwise altered in sequence or quality.” Thus, unauthorized sampling, no matter how minor, is an infringement.