Classic Copyright Cases – Biz Markie

September 30, 2020, By

It’s me again, here with another Classic Copyright Case. This time I’m going to talk about hip hop legend Biz Markie and his 1991 album I Need a Haircut which changed the face of the hip hop industry.

However, this was not necessarily due to the quality of the album (not that there was anything wrong with it) but rather its 12th track, Alone Again. The beat for Alone Again sampled several bars of a piano riff from Gilbert O’Sullivan’s 1972 hit Alone Again (Naturally). Good old Biz in usual fashion also decided to dust off his vocal chords and sing part of the hook for the chorus in his own track, similarly to his 1989 classic Just A Friend.

O’Sullivan took action and sued Biz Markie over the sample – against the backdrop of a major lawsuit against De La Soul by the Turtles which allegedly settled for up to $1.7 million (more on that here).

Whilst the De La Soul case settled out of court, the Alone Again lawsuit made its way to trial in which judge Kevin Duffy found the lovable Biz liable for copyright infringement. He was ordered to pay a handsome $250,000 in damages, banned Warner Bros from continuing to sell the single or the album and, perhaps most shocking, referred the matter to the criminal court. Interestingly, Warner Bros had tried to gain the rights to Alone Again (Naturally) but when O’Sullivan refused they went ahead and released the track anyway.

Fortunately Biz was never charged but nevertheless Duffy’s decision sent shockwaves around the music industry. From then on, major labels were forced to take sampling far more seriously and, given that hip hop was almost exclusively based around sampling at the time, had to be certain that any samples used had been cleared. Producers also started distorting samples more and digging in the crates for lesser-known tracks. Hip hop would never be the same again.

As always, our specialist solicitors and music lovers here at Briffa are always on hand to help with all things music, be it contracts, claims or even just a free chat about what’s what. Please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] or on 020 7288 6003 for a free consultation.

Written by Alex Fewtrell, Solicitor

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