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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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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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