Classic Copyright Cases – De La Soul

February 28, 2020, By

And he’s back at it again with another Classic Copyright Case to feast your eyes on. This time round I have the pleasure of discussing a case involving one of my all-time favourite groups: De La Soul.

Back in 1989 De La Soul changed the face of hip hop with the release of their seminal album, 3 Feet High and Rising. Featuring more experimental and alternative tracks in comparison with the gangster sound that dominated hip hop at the time, De La Soul demonstrated a different attitude towards the genre which permeated throughout the mainstream in the years to follow.

The album, produced by Prince Paul of Stetsasonic fame, hosted an eclectic mix of samples from musicians spanning various genres and eras. It also contained various interludes or ‘skits’ which became a common theme in their following two albums. One of these skits was Transmitting Live from Mars which contained a 12-second sample from U.S. rock band The Turtles’ 1969 song You Showed Me.

In the late 80’s sampling was still relatively new and as a result not all of the samples in the album were cleared. Unfortunately, one of these was the sample of You Showed Me.

Former Turtles members Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman sued De La Soul and co. for a whopping $2.5 million in 1991. Volman said that “sampling is just a longer term for theft” and that “anybody who can honestly say sampling is some sort of creativity has never done anything creative”. I suggest that he listens to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. and then say that, but I guess that’s a story for another day.

Ultimately, the case was settled out of court with Volman and Kaylan allegedly securing up to $1.7 million in damages. The case set a dangerous precedent as to the severity of lawsuits that artists could face if they used samples without obtaining the appropriate clearance.

Personally, I am a firm believer in the artistic integrity of sampling, however it is essential to obtain the appropriate legal rights to do so as De La Soul unfortunately learned the hard way.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a copyright infringement action or think someone else has copied your work, or even if you just want advice regarding ownership of material and contracts/licenses, here at Briffa our specialist solicitors are always on hand to help. Please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] or on 020 72886003 for a free consultation.

Written by Alex Fewtrell, Solicitor

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