TufAmerica, Inc. v. WB Music Corp.
By Emma Winer – Edited by Ashish Bakshi
TufAmerica, Inc. v. WB Music Corp. et al, No. 13-07874 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 5, 2013)
Complaint hosted by Scribd.com.
TufAmerica filed a complaint accusing rap artist Jay Z of infringing the company’s copyright in the song “Hook & Sling Part 1.” According to the complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Jay Z allegedly used a portion, or “sample,” of “Hook and Sling Part 1” in his hit song “Run This Town” without proper authorization from TufAmerica. Complaint, TufAmerica, Inc. v. WB Music Corp., No. 13-07874 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 5, 2013), at 1. The lawsuit names Warner Bros. Music and Jay Z’s label, Roc-A-Fella Records, as co-defendants. TufAmerica has filed a number of similar lawsuits against artists such as the Beastie Boys and Kanye West for sampling songs from catalogs that the company had purchased, Rolling Stone reports.
“Hook & Sling Part 1” was originally released in 1969 by Eddie Bo, a now deceased American pianist. TufAmerica bought the song in 1996, including exclusive rights to “release, sublicense, advertise, assign, exploit and sell…” the master recordings, as well as “the performances and compositions embodied therein.” Id. at 3. TufAmerica recorded its copyright with the United States Copyright Office on May 25, 2000. Id. at 4. The company alleges that samples of “Hook & Sling” appear dozens of times in “Run This Town,” which was released in Jay Z’s albums “The Blue Print 3” and “The Hits Collection Volume One.” Id.
The Guardian and Rolling Stone provide an overview of the facts of the lawsuit. The New York Times and Slate have analyzed the rise of so-called “sample trolls,” which profit from buying copyrights to songs in music catalogs and then suing artists who sample the songs without proper licensing. Gigaom and The Atlantic suggest that the rise of such lawsuits could have detrimental creative consequences in the music industry.
“Run This Town,” which also features Kanye West and Rihanna, was a successful single in the U.S. and abroad. In its suit, TufAmerica seeks an injunction prohibiting the further distribution of both the recording and music video for the song, restitution of profits gained from its sale, and punitive damages. Complaint at 8.
Courts have repeatedly found in favor of copyright owners in cases in which portions of songs have been used without proper authorization. Matthew Yglesias has discussed the rise of sampling litigation in Slate. After the success of sampling in the 1980s, copyright owners won a series of successful lawsuits in the early 1990s, notably Grand Upright Music Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., 780 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1991), in which the Southern District of New York granted an injunction against Warner Bros., prohibiting the use of a track that included an unauthorized sample of a song by rapper Biz Markie. In 2005, the Sixth Circuit ruled that sampling constituted copyright infringement in a case involving a two-second guitar chord sample. Brideport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 410 F.3d 792 (6th Cir. 2005).
The New York Times criticized TufAmerica in a 2012 article, comparing the company’s practice of buying catalogs of music in order to sue companies that sample the songs to the behavior of “patent trolls” – firms that buy patents solely to profit from suing potential infringers. The Times writer, Eduardo Porter, suggested that aggressive litigation by entities like TufAmerica might stymie innovations in music as well as in technology. In a recent piece in the The Atlantic, Erik Nielson also discussed the impact of such lawsuits on the hip-hop industry, claiming that licensing fees, and the fear of litigation, could make sampling prohibitively expensive for most artists.