By Jaia A. Thomas
Music sampling lawsuits are the gifts that keep on giving. Last week Jay-Z joined a growing list of artists being sued for illegally sampling music. The song at the center of the lawsuit – “Run This Town,” his Grammy award-winning single featuring Rihanna. In its suit, the New York based-record label TufAmerica claims that the song samples from the now-deceased R&B artist Eddie Bo’s 1969 funk single, “Hook and Sling Part 1.” According to TufAmerica, Jay-Z never obtained the proper clearances and licenses to use the sample in his 2009 hit.
When listening to both songs, one has to wonder if TufAmerica’s President, Aaron Fuchs is seeking admittance into the Hearing Loss Association of America. The two songs sound absolutely nothing alike. However, this article doesn’t seek to dissect the dissimilarities between the melodies and refrains. Instead, it seeks to focus on a growing trend in the music industry – the rise of “sample trolls.” What is a sample troll? The legal definition of a sample troll is an individual or company who purchases copyrights from another artist and enforces those copyrights aggressively for the purposes of making money through litigation. TufAmerica is a sample troll. One of many. The company has purchased the copyrights of countless artists, especially African-American artists, ranging from such hit-makers as Tina Turner to more obscure artists as George Perkins.
TufAmerica has not only filed a lawsuit against Jay-Z but they have also filed a lawsuit against his colleague and collaborator, Kanye West (claiming “Hook and Sling Part I” was illegally used in “Lost in the World” and “Who Will Survive in America?”). The label has also targeted LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, EPMD and Christina Aguilera, to name a few. Sample trolls make millions of dollars a year suing artists. According to the New York Times, TufAmerica “has made a business out of buying the rights to old songs and suing artists who sample them without permission.” Luckily many states are currently considering legislation to fight troll abuse. It would be wise for artists to stay abreast of changing laws and legislation pertaining to trolls. But, in the meantime, simply beware as more and more trolls are on the prowl.
Jaia A. Thomas is a bi-coastal sports and entertainment attorney. She primarily works on transactional and intellectual property-related matters. For more information, www.jathomaslaw.com or @jaiathomaslaw.