20 years later, Kraftwerk is handed a copyright-infringement win; the decision could affect countless EU musicians.
Kraftwerk, the legendary electronic-pop band based out of Germany, has just won a 20-year-long lawsuit over the unauthorized use of a two-second sample of one of their songs.
Needless to say, the lawsuit has been a lengthy process for Kraftwerk, not to mention the various lawyers, judges, and the defendants, Moses Pelham and Martin Haas. Kraftwerk alleged that two seconds of “Metall auf Metall” was “sampled”—or taken and reused with minimal changes—in “Nur mir.”
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled, in short, that unauthorized sampling constitutes copyright infringement if the sampled sound is recognizable. In this instance, the sampled sound, though very short, was recognizable.
While the lawsuit’s impact on the plaintiffs and defendants will likely be minimal, this decision may well have a profound effect on the way artists sample—and pursue copyright-infringement cases—in European Union countries.
The condensed explanation of these implications is that while the unauthorized use of two-second portions of songs can be classified as copyright infringement (or a lesser charge pertaining to the utilization of another’s intellectual property), sampling that includes ample changes does not qualify as unauthorized use or copyright infringement.
Conceivably, if a musician samples another musician’s song and adequately edits the selected portion via computer, he or she will be in the right.
And as a side note, it can be stated with confidence that had the defendants known of how long and drawn out this process was going to be, they probably would have forewent sampling the two-second clip altogether. For reference, Kraftwerk’s frontman, Ralf Hutter, is currently 72 years of age; Kraftwerk’s other founding members have departed the band.
It’s probable that the near future will bring with it additional rulings based upon this precedent, and there’s no telling how artists, sound mixers, editors, and other music professionals will change their work habits as a result.