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A lawsuit claiming that Madonna and producer Robert “Shep” Pettibone illegally sampled a tune on her 1990 international hit “Vogue” has been resolved with a ruling in favor of the defendants.
The original lawsuit was filed in July by VMG Salsoul, the copyright owner of a 1976 composition called “Love Break.” The plaintiff alleged that it was only through new technology that the “deliberately hidden” sampling had been detected.
But a U.S. District Court judge in California has ruled on summary judgment that sampling of the Horn hit was “trivial,” in that in could not be recognized.
“Having listened to the sound recordings of Chicago Bus Stop, Love Break and Vogue, the Court finds that no reasonable audience would find the sampled portions qualitatively or quantitatively significant in relation to the infringing work, nor would they recognize the appropriation,” the ruling reads. “The Court finds that any sampling of the Horn Hit was de minimis or trivial.”
The ruling had the potential of addressing a standard set in a 2006 case involving a N.W.A. rap song that sampled a Funkadelic riff. In that case, Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals wouldn’t tolerate the sampling and looping of a two-second guitar chord. An appeals court wrote at the time, “Get a license or do not sample. We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way.”
In the present case, U.S. District Judge Beverly O’Connell somewhat sidestepped the issue of whether a very brief sample could ever amount to copyright infringement, declining to adopt any bright-line rule from a different circuit. The judge added that it wasn’t appropriate to apply that case because there wasn’t clarity as to whether there was copying or independent creation or, indeed any sampling at all.
Said attorney Richard Busch, who represented the defendants: “We are thrilled with the decision and believe it is absolutely the right result.”
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