2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59546, U.S. S.D.N.Y. (2015)
The band “Trouble Funk”
“Drop the Bomb”
M. Diamond, A. Horovitz, A. Yauch
Comment by Ahsan Alvi
Just a day before Beastie Boys member, Adam Yauch (aka MCA), passed away from cancer, the Beastie Boys were each individually named as defendants in a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Tuf America claims The Beastie Boys used audio samples from a 1980’s era go-go band, Trouble Funk, in several songs on their License to Ill and Paul’s Boutique albums.
Aside from the obvious unfortunate timing of the lawsuit, the Plaintiffs have an additional hurdle to overcome: the musical sample from Trouble Funk that was allegedly copied is inaudible to the unaided ear. In its complaint, Tuf America (a hip-hop record label and licensee to Trouble Funk’s musical work), alleges that only by isolating musical portions and careful musical analysis can the similarities in the work be observed.
For instance, in one of the four infringement claims, Tuf America says the Beastie Boys used a drum sequence from Trouble Funk’s 1982 song, “Drop the Bomb,” in the song, “Hold It Now Hit It.” Unfortunately for the Plaintiffs, the manner in which the sequence was incorporated into the Beastie Boys’ recording made it nearly impossible to hear by the casual listener (see if you can hear it). The fact that the sample was so deeply buried and unrecognizable prompts the question; did Trouble Funk suffer any economic loss from defendants’ activities as a result for which they should be compensated?
Trouble Funk is a DC-based go-go and funk band that began making music in the late 70’s. The Beastie Boys are a widely-acclaimed hip hop group formed in Brooklyn in the early 1980’s. Some of their major hits include “Intergalactic,” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” and “Fight For Your Right to Party.”
At the district court, Tuf America’s claim foundered for lack of standing and, in 2015 the court granted defendants’ request for summary judgement (link below). It appears that the slender reed on which Tuf America based its claim was a non-exclusive right it had obtained from the owner of “Trouble Funk’s” copyrights specifically to sue based on allegations of infringement of these copyrights. It is astonishing that this litigation dragged on for several years given the plaintiff’s clear lack of standing. The defendants must have thought similarly as they sought, and eventually were awarded, nearly $1 million in attorney fees. Tuf America, after engaging new representation, then pleaded that payment of this award would ruin their enterprise. The court showed mercy and, on July 12 2016, ordered the parties to negotiate a smaller award.
US District Judge Alison Nathan’ s Memorandum and Order: PDF
US District Judge Alison Nathan’ s Memorandum and Order adjusting attorney fees award: PDF