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Judge Halts Sales of Landmark Recording 'Ready to Die'

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Judge Halts Sales of Landmark Recording 'Ready to Die'

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Judge Halts Sales of Landmark Recording 'Ready to Die'

Judge Halts Sales of Landmark Recording 'Ready to Die'

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Sampling, when an artist takes part of one song and uses it in another, is a staple of hip-hop music. Now a federal court has decided how much of the original tune can be used without breaking the law. And five seconds is too much. As a result, the judge froze sales of the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.'s landmark album Ready to Die.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If you follow contemporary music, you may know about sampling. That's when an artist takes part of one song and uses it in another. A legal debate is how much of the original tune can be used without breaking the law.

Now, a federal judge in Nashville says just five seconds is too much. That's why the judge froze sales of the late rapper Notorious BIG's landmark album, Ready to Die.

NPR's Alison Keyes reports.

ALISON KEYES reporting:

The assenting horn sample...

(Soundbite of music)

KEYES: ...comes from the 1992 Ohio Players tune, Singing in the Morning. Rapper Christopher Wallace, known as Biggie Smalls and the Notorious B.I.G., used it in his 1994 classic Ready to Die.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHRISTOPHER WALLACE (Rapper): (Rapping) ...but I like to play out like the Jerry Curl, I'm ready to (unintelligible).

KEYES: The jury found that Bad Boy entertainment and its executive producer, Sean Diddy Combs, used that piece of music without permission or paying royalties, and violated a variety of federal and state copyright laws in the process.

Richard Bush is the attorney for the company's that own the original Ohio Players song. He says he's satisfied with the outcome. After the jury awarded nearly $4.5 million in damages, the judge went even further.

Mr. RICHARD BUSH (Attorney): He did not believe that the monetary damages that were issued were sufficient to protect plaintiff's interests in their copyrights, and ordered that all copies of the album Ready to Die by Notorious B.I.G., be immediately pulled from all sales, including record stores, digital download availability, and air play, and they be impounded pending any appeals.

KEYES: The ruling doesn't affect the four million copies of the album already sold since its release.

Activist-rapper Chuck D, of the group Public Enemy, says he has both sued and been sued over sampling, and he doesn't think it should always be illegal.

Mr. CHUCK D (Rapper, Public Enemy): If you take, like, two or three seconds of a particular sound and you arrange it in your composition, then I don't think anybody should come after you, because you're composing your own composition out of sound. I mean, the inventor of a lawnmower can't copyright the sound.

KEYES: But Chuck D also says older musicians like the Ohio Players should be paid for their work. He says the larger problem is that the copyright laws he calls an incestuous mess line the pockets of lawyers and record companies at the expense of artists.

Mr. D: Downloading runs rampant. Bootlegging will run rampant, because people say, well you know what? It doesn't even pay to go through the channels, so we're going to create almost a bastard industry off the industry that moves quicker than the legalities.

KEYES: Though they could not be reached for comment for this story, Bad Boy's attorneys have already said they will appeal. But Bush, the plaintiff's attorney, says those who do not clear samples before using them on a record, do so at their peril.

Alison Keyes, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WALLACE: (Rapping) I don't wanna see no crying, and I'm not crying.

INSKEEP: You're listening to this music, a sample of it anyway, on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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