Business News Legal

Beastie Boys and Universal hit back in ‘Paul’s Boutique’ copyright claim

By | Published on Thursday 12 June 2014

Beastie Boys

It’s a good job the Beastie Boys have retired from making music, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to focus all their energies on their real passion: copyright litigation.

Having recently prevailed in two copyright disputes they instigated, out of court with toy company Goldiebox and in court with drinks firm Monster, there’s still the matter of the infringement case being pursued against the rap group.

As previously reported, the day before Beastie Boy Adam Yauch died in 2012, often litigious US label TufAmerica sued the group alleging that they had sampled tracks by US band Trouble Funk in some of their earlier tracks without permission. TufAmerica said that it now represented the copyrights in those sampled works via a 1999 administration deal with Trouble Funk.

Even though it had taken over a decade to do anything about the samples – the label said it had only recently become aware of them – last year a judge refused to dismiss TufAmerica’s case, confirming that the use of the Trouble Funk songs ‘Say What’ and ‘Let’s Get Small’ on the Beastie’s 1989 album ‘Paul’s Boutique’ was “qualitatively and quantitatively significant”, and therefore there was a case to answer.

But in their latest filing on the matter, surviving Beastie Boys Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz, and the label that released ‘Paul’s Boutique’, Capitol, have presented a new argument that they hope will kick the lawsuit out of court. Yes the rappers may have sampled ‘Say What’ and ‘Let’s Get Small’ in a “qualitatively and quantitatively significant” way but, you know what, Capitol Records owner Universal, and not TufAmerica, owns the copyrights in those tracks. So fuck you, TufAmerica. (I’m paraphrasing.)

The filing means that this whole case will now centre on agreements signed by Trouble Funk members in the 1980s. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Universal, which acquired the Capitol label via its EMI acquisition in 2012, says that Trouble Funk signed a deal with Island Records, now also a Universal subsidiary, in 1984, and again in 1989, which gave the label ownership of the sound recording copyrights in ‘Say What’ and ‘Let’s Get Small’.

And while the publishing rights – which TufAmerica also says it now represents – are more complicated, Universal claims that Trouble Funk members James Avery and Tony Fisher assigned their rights in the two songs to a publisher and, via acquisitions, those copyrights ended up with the Polygram music publishing firm which, of course, subsequently morphed into Universal Music Publishing. And while that wouldn’t give the mega-major complete control of the songs, under US copyright law TufAmerica is not allowed to sue a co-owner of a copyright work. They shoot, they score!

It remains to be seen how TufAmerica responds to all this, though Universal says Avery and Fisher are willing to confirm the deals referenced in the major’s legal papers. So, could the Beastie Boys be heading for their third copyright win in a season? They may just.