Beastie Boys Sampling Case Tossed from Court

The Supreme Court refuses to consider whether a 1992 Beastie Boys song infringed on the copyright of a recording by jazz flutist James Newton. He had contended that the group's song "Pass the Mic" sampled his composition "Choir" from 1978.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear this sequence of notes.

(Soundbite of "Choir")

BLOCK: That's from a 1978 recording for flute called "Choir" by jazz musician James Newton.

SIEGEL: The whole piece is four and a half minutes long. In 1992, that small excerpt was sampled by the hip-hop group the Beastie Boys.

(Soundbite of "Pass the Mic")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) Goodness gracious. If you can do it, I'm dealing and it's a musical masterpiece, do what I'm dealing with, and that's cool at least. What's running...

BLOCK: The Beastie Boys used the three-note progression to open their song "Pass the Mic" and repeated it 39 more times under the rest of the tune.

SIEGEL: The group paid a record company for the use of the 10-second recording by Newton, but Newton sued the Beastie Boys, alleging copyright infringement. He said they should have also paid him as the composer.

BLOCK: The Beastie Boys argued they had not used a composition but a sound.

SIEGEL: Well, the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit. The court decided the three notes were not distinctive enough to be claimed by Newton.

BLOCK: Today, the Supreme Court shut the door on James Newton's lawsuit to be compensated by the Beastie Boys for their use of his song "Choir."

(Soundbite of "Choir")

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