Songs on Trial: 12 Landmark Music Copyright Cases

We look back at historic rulings from "Surfin' U.S.A." to "Blurred Lines"

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De La Soul vs. The Turtles (1991)
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De La Soul vs. The Turtles (1991)

"Transmitting Live From Mars," by De La Soul (1989) vs. "You Showed Me," by the Turtles (written by Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark) (1969)

The Case: The hip-hop collective De La Soul built their masterpiece 3 Feet High and Rising from a vast library of samples spanning genres, languages and decades. At a time when sampling was relatively new (and relatively lawless), not all of the snippets received the proper clearance. Among these was a 12-second segment from the Turtles' 1969 song "You Showed Me," used on the interlude skit "Transmitting Live From Mars." Former Turtles Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman leveled a $2.5 million lawsuit at Prince Paul and company in 1991. "Sampling is just a longer term for theft," Volman told the L.A. Times. "Anybody who can honesty say sampling is some sort of creativity has never done anything creative." Ironically, the song was written by none of the Turtles, but instead by Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark of the Byrds.

The Verdict: The case was settled out of court, with Volman and Kaylan netting a sum reportedly as high as $1.7 million. De La Soul claim they never paid that much.

Why It Matters: Rap artists believed this ruling set a dangerous precedent that would bankrupt them due to licensing or legal fees and would ultimately destroy hip-hop. The case precipitated a steady decline in sampling as labels grappled with the financial and logistical headaches of ensuring all artists were properly paid and credited. Heavily sampled albums like 3 Feet High would likely be impossible to make today.

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