It is that time again, another Classic Copyright Case from yours truly. I hope you are all keeping well and enjoying the gradual descent into insanity which I am sure has been these past two months. At least the lockdown is gradually being relaxed so sit tight and enjoy these charming blogs in the meantime.
This week I am going to talk about a song we have all heard – Vanilla Ice’s seminal 1990 track Ice Ice Baby. I am not entirely sure how to feel about this song; on the one hand it is awful but on the other hand I like it. After all, it brought us such classic and meaningless lines as “all right stop, collaborate and listen”.
Nevertheless, Vanilla Ice (or Robert Van Winkle as he is legally named) got himself into some trouble when he brought out his now immortal track. Queen and David Bowie were not nearly as impressed as everyone else was. Van Winkle had quite clearly sampled the classic bassline to Under Pressure. He famously insisted that the two melodies were different because he added a beat between notes. Unfortunately for Winkle it does not work that way.
Representatives for Queen and Bowie were having none of it and threatened a copyright infringement claim. The case eventually settled for an undisclosed but inevitably hefty sum. Bowie and Queen members both also received songwriting credits on the track.
Years later, Van Winkle revealed that he paid $4 million to purchase the publishing rights to Under Pressure which he said was cheaper than continuing having to pay royalties. Regardless, he happily explained that he had made a handsome amount of money from Ice Ice Baby and was comfortable in life.
I personally believe in the artistic merit in sampling, however in this case Van Winkle blatantly sampled a famous song without giving the recognition and royalties due to the artists. If you fancy a quick laugh, check out the classic footage online of Van Winkle poorly attempting to justify that the melodies were not the same.
As always, our specialist copyright team (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@example.com or on 020 72886003 for a free consultation.
Written by Alex Fewtrell, Solicitor
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