Sampling, Registration, and a Broken Copyright System
Remember this name: Armen Boladian. According to Columbia law professor Tim Wu, Boladian is the sole owner of Bridgeport Music, Inc., a one-man company that just happens to control the copyrights to most of George Clinton’s song catalog. Clinton is the mastermind musician and producer behind the monstrous Parliament-Funkadelic bands that ruled soul music during the seventies and eighties. Along with both bands, Clinton is a 1997 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his works remain popular today because they are sampled widely by contemporary hip hop artists.
Boladian also is the plaintiff in the stunningly stupid and ill-conceived 2004 case Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films. The Bridgeport decision effectively has illegalized musical sampling within the Sixth Circuit (which includes the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee), a holding that runs counter to longstanding doctrine in other judicial circuits about fair and “de minimis” use of protected works.
Following the Bridgeport precedent, a federal jury earlier this year found that producer Sean “Diddy” Combs illegally used an Ohio Players sample on a track of Notorious B.I.G.’s epic 1994 album Ready to Die. The jury awarded Bridgeport a $4 million judgment, and the judge in that case ordered the album off the shelves. The injunction means a work that Rolling Stone magazine considers one of the 500 greatest albums of all time is no longer available.
And last month, Bridgeport sued rapper Jay-Z, alleging he illegally used a sample of a song in the Bridgeport catalog in the 2003 single “Justify My Thug.” Wu’s November article in Slate characterizes Boladian as a “copyright troll.”
On the surface, this month’s column is about music sampling, but the fundamental issues in the Bridgeport cases – including questions of ownership, lack of identifying information about protected work, and the narrowing of fair use – affect all types of information and creative information.
An Information Today exclusive.
K. Matthew Dames. Sampling, Registration, and a Broken Copyright System. Information Today. January 2007.
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