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Central District of California Strikes Gold for Music Samplers

—RMZ

In 2005 the Sixth Circuit put forth a ‘bright-line’ test for music sampling in Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films: any unauthorized use, no matter how small or insignificant, of a copyrighted sound recording will be an infringing use.  Shortly thereafter, the Bridgeport test was entrenched as the standard for copyright infringement in the digital age of music.  However, the pendulum may be swinging back in favor of the traditional copyright infringement analysis.

One of the first signs came in 2013 VMG Salsoul v. Madonna Ciccone et al. held Madonna’s percussive use of single horn chord in her hit song Vogue was not a copyright infringement.  The Central District of California rejected using Bridgeport in favor of the 9th Circuit’s earlier Newton v. Diamond case, finding a) the single chord is not ‘sufficiently original’ and b) even if it were ‘sufficiently original,’ the use would be de minimis, or, too insignificant for copyright infringement.

On August 14, 2014, the Central District of California in Trena Steward et al. v. Kanye West et al., again used a traditional copyright analysis in favor of the Bridgeport standard, noting Bridgeport has been “criticized by courts and commentators alike.”  The Court found West’s use of a short sample in the five times platinum song Gold Digger was de minimis before granting his Motion to Dismiss.  However, the analysis made clear that samples in music, even very short ones, could still be infringing.  That the sampled portion was not the “‘heart and hook’” of the song, was “spoken without any significant musical accompaniment,” and was “distorted—sped up and in a higher pitch—and accompanied by musical instruments, vocals, or some other musical element that obscures the sampled portion” all factored into the Court’s holding.

Cases like these may indicate a move away from the Bridgeport test; a traditional analysis for copyright infringement in music sampling may, again, be in vogue.

Roberts McGivney Zagotta LLC represents both musicians and defendants in copyright infringement cases.  Additionally, Roberts McGivney Zagotta LLC is able to review and provide legal opinions regarding the use of music samples, or other materials and intellectual property, in music, television programs, movies, and video games.