Copyright expert Tim Wu’s look at Bridgeport Publishing, the Armen Boladian-owned music company that won a $4 million illegal-sampling suit against the Notorious B.I.G.’s estate earlier this year, lets readers in on its less-than-savory business practices:
In the 1970s, Boladian and Bridgeport managed to seize most of the copyrights to [George] Clinton’s songs. How exactly they did so is highly disputed. However, in at least a few cases, Boladian assigned the copyrights to Bridgeport by writing a contract and then faking Clinton’s signature (as described here). As Clinton put it in this interview, “he just stole ‘em.” …
The company, suing in Nashville, Tenn., located every sample of Clinton or other owned copyrights it could find. It took the legal position that any sampling of a sound recording, no matter how minimal or unnoticeable, is still a violation of federal law. Imagine that the copyright owner of The Lord of the Rings had sued every fantasy book or magazine that dared used the words elf, orc, or troll. That gives you an idea of the magnitude of Bridgeport’s campaign.
As you may have suspected from the manner in which Boladian got the rights to these songs, the company isn’t giving the money won in these judgements to the original copyright owners, like the sampling-positive Clinton; instead, those funds are being plowed back into Bridgeport’s coffers, to no doubt pay for more lawsuits. With one appellate court already on Bridgeport’s side, things may look grim for sample-happy artists unless, as Wu suggests, Congress intervenes, and adds a “sample code” to the country’s law books.