Timbaland plagiarism controversy
The 2007 dance-pop song "Do It" features elements plagiarized from "Acidjazzed Evening", a chiptune-style track composed by the Finnish demoscene artist Janne Suni. Timbaland, the song's producer, admitted to sampling Suni's work, but did not believe his usage constituted "stealing", calling the allegations "ridiculous". Although users had noted the similarities between the two tracks on Finnish demoscene forums in July 2006, the Timbaland plagiarism controversy attracted mainstream attention in January 2007, when internet users posted videos to YouTube alleging Timbaland had plagiarised Suni's work. Soon afterwards, the controversy attracted the attention of the Finnish news portal eDome, and the MTV and Rolling Stone websites, who all published articles detailing the events of the controversy. "Do It" was released as the fifth North American single from Loose on July 24, 2007.
The original track, entitled "Acidjazzed Evening", is a chiptune-style, 4-channel Amiga module composed by Finnish demoscener Janne Suni (a.k.a. Tempest). The song won first place in the Oldskool Music competition at Assembly 2000, a demoparty held in Helsinki, Finland, in 2000. According to Scene.org, the song was uploaded to their servers the same year, long before the release of the song by Furtado. The song was later remixed (with Suni's permission) by Norwegian Glenn Rune Gallefoss (a.k.a. GRG) for the Commodore 64 in SID format - this is the version which was later used for "Do It". It was added to the High Voltage SID Collection on December 21, 2002.
A video which claims to show proof of the theft was posted to YouTube on January 12, 2007. Another video was posted to YouTube on January 14, 2007, claiming Timbaland also stole the tune a year earlier for the ringtone Block Party, one of several that were sold in the United States in 2005.
Janne Suni posted the following comment regarding the copyright status of "Acidjazzed Evening" on January 15, 2007:
...I have never given up the copyrights of Acidjazzed Evening. I also have never authorized commercial use of the song. In 2002, however, Glenn Rune Gallefoss (also known as GRG) made a conversion/arrangement of the Acidjazzed Evening which was not released commercially. This arrangement was made on the Commodore 64 computer. It was authorized by me, and Glenn Rune Gallefoss explicitly asked for permission before releasing the arrangement.
On February 16, 2007, he added the following note:
I'll correct one persistent misconception: I have been using the services of a law firm since September 2006. Things are gradually developing behind the scenes, and whatever the result turns out to be like, I'll publish any available info here as soon as possible.
On September 9, 2007, his webpage was updated with the following information:
My case regarding the controversy has come to its closure. Just as before, I will not answer any questions about the case.
The C64 news portal C64.sk published the following comment from Glenn R. Gallefoss on January 15, 2007:
... Its my sid version that has been sampled in do-it : You can hear that by the 11 waveform bleeps I have put in at random places (only 3 voices on a sid you know), the arpeggios are using filters, I can even hear the lead using my multipulse routine (which i rarely use, but i did it on acidjazz.sid ).
On February 3, Gallefoss published the following comment on his personal web page:
Not much to tell about this matter. I have made a deal with my lawyers. Sometime in the near future, something will happen.
Universal / Nelly Furtado
In case that the artist decides to pursue the matter further, it's on him to go to America and confront them with the local use of law. It will require a considerable amount of faith and, of course, money.
The first legal action against Universal Finland was officially filed with Helsinki District Court in mid-August 2007, on behalf of Glenn R. Gallefoss.
On February 2, 2007, Timbaland responded to the plagiarism accusations in an interview by the radio show Elliot in the Morning. In this interview, Timbaland admits to what he calls "sampling", but he also claims that sampling is "not stealing", because "everybody samples from everybody every day". Timbaland also says that the sample is "from a video game" and mentions the Commodore 64. He also says that he has no time for research and that it is sometimes impossible to "know what's public domain and what's not". Timbaland also calls the issue "ridiculous" but mentions that he is "in legal discussions" and therefore was not able to say much about it. He did, however, call Janne Suni an "idiot" and a "freakin' jerk" on the show. He consistently talked about the incident as sampling, failing to address the claims with regards to the melody.
On February 9, 2007, Timbaland commented on the issue as follows in an MTV interview:
It makes me laugh. The part I don't understand, the dude is trying to act like I went to his house and took it from his computer. I don't know him from a can of paint. I'm 15 years deep. That's how you attack a king? You attack moi? Come on, man. You got to come correct. You the laughing stock. People are like, 'You can't be serious.'"
A device in Timbaland's studio, as seen in video clips from the MTV show Timbaland's Diary, has been identified as an Elektron SidStation. This device is a MIDI-controlled synthesizer based on the SID chip of the Commodore 64, and it is capable of playing back .sid files the way they would have sounded on the original hardware. It has been speculated that Timbaland downloaded Gallefoss' version of the song from the High Voltage SID Collection and used the SidStation for running it to the studio system.
Chris Abbott, maintainer of the website C64Audio.com, posted an in-depth analysis on the topic and summarizes it in his on-line article. Abbott has commercially released Commodore 64 music, most notably the "Back in Time" CD series. Abbott writes:
What appears to have happened is that the three-voice output from the original C64 version has had the bass voice silenced: that missing bass voice then follows the original tune except for a couple of changed notes, and the removal of some octave jumps. However, various technical procedures show that other components of the song (chords/melody/rhythm) have been exactly reproduced. This is vanishingly unlikely to have happened by chance.
Abbott also notes that although the evidence seems to be conclusive, the eventual outcome is not.
In August 2007, an action for infringement was filed in the District Court of Helsinki against Universal Music, Ltd alleging Nelly Furtado's song "Do It" infringed "Acid Jazz Evening". In January 2009, after a trial that included multiple expert and technical witnesses, a three judge panel unanimously dismissed the plaintiff's case.
On December 17, 2008, Abbott also testified as a witness of prosecution in the Helsinki court in Gallefoss' case against Universal Music Finland. The Finnish court reportedly threw out the case after ruling in only one aspects of the three claims (sampling, performance rights, producer rights), and the case remains in appellate court, as of January 2010.
On June 12, 2009, Mikko Välimäki, who is one of the legal counsels of Kernel Records, the owner of the sound recording rights, reported that the case had been filed in Florida. On June 7, 2011, the case of Kernel Records Oy v. Mosley ended with the court deciding that Kernel Records had failed to register for copyright in the United States.
Earlier examples of unauthorized commercial use of SID music have been brought up by sources covering the Timbaland plagiarism controversy.
An often-mentioned example is Zombie Nation's 1999 hit Kernkraft 400, which was a remake of David Whittaker's song for the 1984 Commodore 64 game Lazy Jones. Legal action is pending. Another example is the Dutch hit You've Got My Love, for which the artist Bas "Bastian" Bron sampled the drums from Jeroen Tel's and Reyn Ouwehand's song made for the Rubicon game. Both of the cases were won by the original authors in court.
The Fitts for Fight case also involved copied chipmusic.
In April 2008, a similar case was revealed about self-proclaimed "chiptune maestro" Laromlab, who released his self-titled album on Mushpot Records; shortly after it was discovered that the entire album is in fact the work of a chiptune collective called the YM Rockerz. Mushpot responded by dropping Laromlab immediately from the label, and Laromlab himself has issued an apology, stating the "project was a hoax, a complete fallacy".
The beginnings of the controversy
The earliest internet forum posts suggesting that "Do It" was based on "Acidjazzed Evening" date back to July 2006, and according to the Finnish news portal eDome, "Suni and other demoscene hobbyists" already knew about it at this time.
The electronic music magazine Side-Line put a complete news round-up up on its website. Finnish tabloids Ilta-Sanomat, Iltalehti, and newspapers ITviikko, and DigiToday also published articles about the suspected plagiarism on January 15, 2007.
On January 16, Finnish news portal eDome published an article about the case saying in the English summary that:
It is beyond any doubt that Timothy "Timbaland" Mosley has directly copied large sections of Janne Suni’s songs, much more than any "fair use" would allow. Timbaland has not sampled tiny bits or effects from the song, but whole sections. This is a clear breach of copyright.
The article also covered similar cases from the past and notified that both the competition and the prize ceremony "were witnessed by the 4000-5000 people at the event. The competition and the ceremony were also shown in Helsinki area cable TV". The same day, the news reached Norwegian media, including Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and Dagbladet, both of which interviewed Gallefoss.
On January 17, the case was reported on briefly by the Rolling Stone website, XXL Magazine, and the popular German IT news portal Heise online. Heise's story suggests that Timbaland downloaded Gallefoss's SID arrangement from the High Voltage SID Collection.
On January 22, MTV took notice of the issue with a longer article and according video-news. It is not clear if this video news was actually broadcast or merely posted online. MTV-owned sister station VH-1 also published the MTV news story. MTV had apparently tried to reach Timbaland's representatives via phone and e-mail, but they "had not responded at press time".
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- Acidjazzed Evening (MOD format, ZIP-compressed)
- "Do It" music video on YouTube
- Acid Jazz (C64 remix) (SID format)
- Collection of different sources about the issue