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It took 20 years, but justice has been dealt at last. In a case filed in the late 90s, the European Court of Justice ruled in favor of Kraftwerk, deeming the sampling of the band’s 1977 tune “Metall auf Metall” by the producers of singer Sabrina Setlur (in her 1997 song “Nur Mir”) unlawful. Granted, it might be just two seconds of audio, but it’s still a piece of original Kraftwerk music being prominently looped in the song without clearance and compensation.

The case is also an example of contemporary European copyright and sampling law in action, perhaps giving a clue towards how future cases like it may be treated. In its initial verdict, the ECJ argued sampling equals reproduction of original work with clearance needed from the rights holders. However, the court also maintained that a musical recording “in a modified form unrecognizable to the ear”, a.k.a. mangled sampling, does not constitute reproduction.

Thus, the case will return to the German Federal Court and further analysis will establish whether the Kraftwerk sample is “reproduction” or “artistic work.” Since the snippet from “Metall auf Metall” is left mostly intact, it is very likely that the German court will too side with “die roboter.”

However, European law has yet to come up with clear guidance on the legalities of sampling. As of now, there are no principles regarding the extent and nature of using copyrighted work and what constitutes infringement. The conclusion to this case is that sampling a tiny bit of copyrighted audio as-is is infringement, which could be evaded by artistically rendering the material unrecognizable. Basically, if the end result of your sample doesn’t make the listener go “what the heck is that?!” upon hearing it, you might be a criminal. Surely we need something more functional than that?

via Billboard

One response to “Kraftwerk win sampling lawsuit – what next for European copyright law?”

  1. in this case it was outright stealing, but i’m in support of sampling if it’s creative and distinguished. it’s what art is- borrowing and building upon the previous.

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