First Denmark Copyright Case Involving Sampling Decided
Copyrights are granted to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical and other works. Without authorization from a copyright holder, others are not allowed to reproduce or distribute the work in copies, as Djuma Soundstyem did in Denmark. In that case, Danish electro band Djuma Soundsytem used a sample of Atilla Engin’s track “Turkish Showbiz” in their track “Les Djinns” without telling their label at the time, EMI, that they did so. The track was released and sold a measly 150 copies. However, after being dropped from EMI, their new label Get Physical thought the track could sell and contemplated a re-release. The group then decided to do the right thing and get permission from the original author. Unfortunately, the artists were unable to come to an agreement with the copyright holder. When the case went to trial, some contend that the judge did not understand the unique aspects of “modern” music. They contend that because this was a ten second sample, the crux of the case was how should a sample be defined. Similar criticism came from those concerned that the verdict would set a precedent and affect the Danish music industry for the worse. Specifically, the verdict places an economic burden on musicians who use short samples of songs. The critics say that Djuma should not be forced to pay such an exorbitant amount for a sample used in a song that made them one tenth of the fine. Essentially, the copyright holder won 84% royalties on a song that did not profit the band.
Djuma, however, is appealing the verdict in a higher court. While I agree with the need for a fine for copyright infringement, I also agree with the criticism of the verdict in this case: the fine should be commensurate with the actual profit made by one who reproduces copies of a piece of work without permission. However, perhaps the judge was trying to send a strong message to the Danish music industry. He has succeeded in doing so and it will be interesting to watch how this case is decided on appeal.