Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films

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Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films
US-CourtOfAppeals-6thCircuit-Seal.png
Court United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Full case name Bridgeport Music, Inc., et al. v. Dimension Films, et al.
Decided June 3, 2005
Citation(s) 410 F.3d 792
Case history
Prior action(s) 230 F. Supp. 2d 830 (M.D.Tenn. 2002) (granting summary judgment for defendant), rev'd, 383 F.3d 390 (6th Cir. 2004), rehearing granted in part and opinion amended, 401 F.3d 647 (6th Cir. 2004)
Case opinions
district court erroneously granted summary judgment for defendant on claim for copyright infringement based on fact that defendant's copying of plaintiff's copyrighted sound recording was merely de minimis. Court of Appeals rejects de minimis defense to claim for copyright infringement of a sound recording.
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Ralph B. Guy, Jr., Ronald Lee Gilman, and Judith M. Barzilay (sitting by designation)

Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 410 F.3d 792 (6th Cir. 2005), is a court case that has proved important in defining American copyright law for recorded music. The case centered on N.W.A.’s song "100 Miles and Runnin’" and Funkadelic's "Get Off Your Ass and Jam". Essentially, N.W.A. sampled a two-second guitar chord from Funkadelic's tune, lowered the pitch and looped it five times in their song. This was all done without Funkadelic's permission and with no compensation paid to Bridgeport Music, which claims to own the rights to Funkadelic's music.

Bridgeport brought the issue before a federal judge, who ruled that the incident was not in violation of copyright law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the decision and ruled that the sampling was in violation of copyright law. Their argument was that with a sound recording, an owner of the copyright on a work had exclusive right to duplicate the work. Under this interpretation of the copyright law, usage of any section of a work, regardless of length, would be in violation of copyright unless the copyright owner gave permission. In its decision, the court wrote: "Get a license or do not sample. We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way."

This decision effectively eliminates the de minimis doctrine for digitally sampling recorded music in the Sixth Circuit, and has affected industry practice. However, the court expressly noted that the decision did not preclude the availability of other defenses, such as fair use, even in the context of "sampling." Thus, in the Sixth Circuit, defendants who digitally sampled may not rely on the de minimis doctrine to say that they copied such a small amount that they are not liable for copyright infringement.

However, they may still argue that their use of the sample is still a fair use—that is, that the use is transformative, for noncommercial purpose, copied only a small amount, the original had a thin copyright, or the copying did not harm the market for the original work or its derivatives.

New York University musicologist and sampling expert Lawrence Ferrara describes the effects of the Bridgeport case on sample-based music as, "extremely chilling, because it basically says that whatever you sample has to be licensed, in its most extreme interpretation."[1]

The case is also influential in the rest of the world: on November 20, 2008, the electronic pioneers Kraftwerk were successful in a landmark case "Metall Auf Metall"[2] in the Federal Court of Justice of Germany (Bundesgerichtshof, abbreviated BGH), which quotes Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films and decided that even the smallest shreds of sounds are copyrightable and that the sampling of a drum beat can be copyright infringement. Under German law, however, this results de lege lata. The BGH only mentioned the Bridgeport-case without discussing it.[3]

Nevertheless, not every court has been persuaded by the logic of Bridgeport, at least one U.S. District Court having expressly rejected its reasoning.[4] For their part, the other Circuits of the U.S. Court of Appeals have yet to accept or reject the Bridgeport precedent.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ McLeod and DiCola. Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling. p. 143.
  2. ^ Conley, Neil; Braegelmann, Tom H. (2009). "English Translation: Metall auf Metall (Kraftwerk, et al. v. Moses Pelham, et al.), Decision of the German Federal Supreme Court no. I ZR 112/06, dated November 20, 2008". Journal of the Copyright Society 56: 1017. SSRN 1504982. 
  3. ^ For a comparison of Bridgeport and Metall auf Metall see Apel, Simon (2010). "Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films (USA), Metall auf Metall (Germany) and Digital Sound Sampling – "Bright Line Rules"?". Zeitschrift für Geistiges Eigentum/Intellectual Property Journal 3 (2): 331–350. ; Apel, Simon, Der ausübende Musiker im Recht Deutschlands und der USA, pp. 299 et seq., 311 et seq. (Mohr Siebeck:Tübingen 2011) and Reilly, Tracy (2012). "Good Fences Make Good Neighboring Rights: The German Federal Supreme Court Rules on the Digital Sampling of Sound Recordings in Metall auf Metall". Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology 13 (1): 153. 
  4. ^ Saregama India Ltd. v. Mosley, 687 F.Supp.2d 1325 (S.D.Fla. 2009), affirmed on other grounds, Saregama India Ltd. v. Mosley, 635 F.3d 1284 (11th Cir. 2011).

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