Critically acclaimed hip-hop artist Frank Ocean recently became involved in a complex copyright lawsuit for a sample he used on the song "Super Rich Kids." The track in question allegedly uses a sample from a Mary J. Blige song called "Real Love," which is partly owned by a record label known as TufAmerica. Universal Music Group is the defendant in the suit.
Interestingly, TufAmerica claims to only own 3.15 percent of "Real Love." This is because the record label holds the rights to a different song that is sampled in the Mary J. Blige song, which basically means that Ocean's recording uses a sample of a sample. The sample used in "Real Love" comes from a 1973 tune by the Honeydrippers known as "Impeach the President." TufAmerica is stating that Blige's sampling of the 1973 song was illegal. While the label has not revealed the amount for which it will be suing Universal, the filing claims that TufAmerica is entitled to compensatory, punitive or statutory damages.
This is not the record label's first copyright suit. In 2013, TufAmerica sued Atlantic Records and Roc-A-Fella Records, stating that rapper Jay Z had used an illegal sample of a 1969 soul song by Eddie Bo known as "Hook & Sling." A year earlier, the label sued Kanye West for sampling the same song. The label has also targeted the Beastie Boys in a lawsuit for sampling a 1982 release known as "Drop the Bomb" by Trouble Funk.
Sampling is a fairly prevalent practice in the music industry. Artists in California that have released music on a record label might discover that their work has been used as a sample, even if the original recording was made many years ago. Any musician or record company that feels their music has been illegally reproduced should consider seeking legal advice to determine if any copyrights were violated.
Source: Rolling Stone, "Frank Ocean's 'Super Rich Kids' Named in Copyright Lawsuit" Jason Newman, Feb. 11, 2014