Beastie Boys Could Win Infringement Lawsuit, Court Documents Suggest

Copyright administration company TufAmerica's claim that 'Paul's Boutique' unlawfully used funk band's songs may be unwarranted

Beastie Boys
Mike Hutson/Redferns
June 12, 2014 3:25 PM ET

A lawsuit targeting the Beastie Boys' use of samples on their 1989 album Paul's Boutique could come out in the rap trio's favor, court documents suggest. TufAmerica filed the suit in May 2012, a day before Beastie Boy Adam Yauch's death, claiming that the group sampled the R&B and funk group Trouble Funk's "Say What" and "Let's Get Small" without permission. But now summary judgment motions by the Beastie Boys and labels Universal-Polygram and Capitol suggest that the lawsuit may have no foundation, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

How the Beastie Boys Made Their Masterpiece, 'Paul's Boutique'

TufAmerica has said that it obtained the rights to the Trouble Funk songs in a 1999 administrative rights agreement allowing the company to pursue alleged infringers. But the papers filed by the Beastie Boys and the labels claim that Trouble Funk entered into an agreement with Universal affiliate Island in 1984, an agreement that was updated in 1989, that makes Island the exclusive owner of those songs. Two Trouble Funk members admitted that that agreement was valid and that they had signed it during depositions for this case. That deal makes it illegal for the musicians to assign rights to anyone else.

TufAmerica has also claimed to have the rights to the songs' compositions – not just the recordings – but the new court documents say that Universal owns those as well since, in 1984, the same two musicians assigned their rights in a way that led back to the Universal-owned Polygram. Universal's paperwork states that "TufAmerica cannot pursue an infringement action against a co-owner of the copyrighted works at issue."

The Beastie Boys' paperwork also claims that Trouble Funk member James Avery said he was unaware of the group's 1999 agreement with TufAmerica and entered into another contract with the company in 2012 with his other co-owners. The Beasties say these two deals cannot constitute a single exclusive licensing agreement and that precedents should prevent Avery from being able to sue them.

If a judge rules in the Beastie Boys' favor, THR claims that they will have achieved a "copyright trifecta," winning a settlement, winning on summary judgment and winning at trial.

It's also worth noting that previous stories by THR about the TufAmerica lawsuit named the Trouble Funk song "Drop the Bomb" as one of the songs sampled, but it does not appear in either the Beastie Boys' paperwork nor the labels'.

In addition to going after the Beastie Boys, TufAmerica has recently gone after Jay Z for allegedly using R&B artist Eddie Bo's "Hook & Sling Part 1" in "Run This Town" (a sample it previously had sued Kanye West over) and Frank Ocean for sampling Mary J. Blige's "Real Love" on "Super Rich Kids." The latter sample came into question because the Blige song sampled the Honeydrippers' 1973 song "Impeach the President."

Recently, the Beastie Boys have come out victorious in two other legal matters. The group was able to settle its suit with toymaker GoldieBlox, which used their song "Girls" in a commercial, and even got a public apology from the company. And the group won $1.7 million from Monster Energy Drink, which improperly used five of their songs in an online video.

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