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Kanye West is being sued, yet again, for allegedly using unlicensed samples in his music. Remember singing along with West's hit single "Gold Digger" back in 2005? The song's golden line, "Get down girl, go ahead, get down," is back to get Kanye down into a lawsuit.
The children of a deceased musician named David Pryor are suing West for sampling a very small part of their father's song, "Bumpin' Bus Stop," CBS News reports. A very small part indeed: The case revolves around Pryor faintly singing "Get Down" three times.
Is this a legitimate copyright infringement case or are the plaintiffs just gold-digging?
Just a Sample
"Sampling" is using a small part of one song for the use of another song. Music sampling exists in a murky area of copyright law and in theory, any sampling at all can be illegal. Since there is no uniform rule stating sampling is illegal, the courts have anything but settled on the issue.
Due to the lack of clarity on the law, West's lawyers will want to stay ahead of the game and form a strong defense strategy.
There are two main defenses to sampling lawsuits: fair use and de minimis use. Fair use requires weighing a number of factors on a case-by-case basis. The defense of fair use does not have a clear rule on sampling, but mashup artists like Girl Talk, who use hundreds of samples per song, heavily rely on fair use.
No bright-line rule exists for de minimis use, either. West could assert this defense and argue that the sample portioned from Pryor's song is so negligible that the court shouldn't even bother with a fair use analysis.
Statute of Limitations
The timing of the suit comes eight years after "Gold Digger" went No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, CBS News reports. This raises a possible statute of limitations issue for the plaintiffs.
Under U.S. copyright law, civil actions for copyright infringement must be brought within three years after the harm is discovered. Fortunately for the plaintiffs, this time restriction can be extended if the infringement is ongoing. Chances are, someone is still listening to "Gold Digger."
Though in all likelihood, the case will either be dismissed or settled out of court, we'll just have to stay tuned.