A US court has dismissed a sample lawsuit filed by soul musician Ernie Hines against Jay-Z and Timbaland.
An initial lawsuit was dismissed back in 2020 because of legal technicalities. But this time - when considering a second lawsuit - the judge considered copyright matters, concluding that the elements of Hines' song sampled by Jay-Z and Timbaland were not protected by copyright.
Hines said that his 1970 song ‘Help Me Put Out The Flame (In My Heart)’ was sampled without licence on Jay-Z's 1998 Timbaland-produced track ‘Paper Chase’. And not only that, Timbaland used the same sample the following year on Ginuwine’s ‘Toe 2 Toe’. As Hines' second lawsuit progressed, Ginuwine was actually added as a defendant.
The defendants didn't actually dispute that the two Timbaland-produced tracks sampled the introduction of 'Help Me Put Out The Flame'. But Hines owns the copyright in the song not the recording, and - the defendants argued - the elements of the earlier composition used in the 1990s tracks were not substantial enough to be protected by copyright.
That argument was aided by the fact that the introduction of Hines' song was basically a rework of this famous - and public domain - musical phrase known as 'Mysterioso Pizzicato'.
Hines did alter the public domain phrase a little, but - siding with Jay-Z et al on this in his judgement - judge J Paul Oetken stated: "Hines ... cannot claim copyright in the elements he added to 'Mysterioso Pizzicato'. The introduction’s additions of a single note and a single different rhythm ... do not render the introduction protectable".
The full judgement discusses the copyright status of the sampled element of ‘Help Me Put Out The Flame' in much more detail, before concluding that ‘Paper Chase’ and ‘Toe 2 Toe’ did not infringe Hines’ song copyright in relation to the earlier work.
And, with that in mind, Oetken granted the motions for dismissal requested by Jay-Z, Timbaland and Ginuwine, as well as corporate co-defendant Warner Chappell.