This Copyright Lawsuit Over Sampled Breakbeats Could Change the Way Music Is Composed

Two things exempt from copyright and plagiarism: song titles and drum beats.  Wait–scratch that. Drum beats might now be fair game–or at least sampled breakbeats like the Amen BreakFunky Drummer and any of these other oft-sampled drum bits.

The thing they all have in common is that their composers/originators haven’t seen a dime from their creations even though they’ve been sampled in thousands of songs over the years. That, however, could change as the result of a case involving a Dr. Luke production.  From The Hollywood Reporter:

For years, musicians have been taking old drumming solos to create new works with near impunity, but those days might be on the verge of being over thanks to a case being pursued against famous pop producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald over the Jessie J mega-hit “Price Tag.”

The plaintiff in this New York federal court case is New Old Music Group, whose president Lenny Lee Goldsmith wrote the 1975 composition “Zimba Ku,” recorded by the band Black Heat. A drum part in this song has become one of the more famous breakbeats in music history. N.W.A, Pete Rock, Kool G. Rap and Heavy D & the Boyz are just some of the artists who have reported to have used it. (See here for the music in question.)

But it’s Dr. Luke who is being sued for copyright infringement for its alleged use on the Jessie J song. Specifically, the similarities in the sixteen consecutive 16th notes on the hi-hat cymbal, a bass drum pattern consisting of two eighth notes on the first beat of the measure in controversy, snare drum attacks on beats 2 and 3, and a “ghost note” or “drag” on the snare drum at the end of the measure.

The judge is very much on the side of the original composers/musicians. This could get really, really, really interesting. In fact, this could be one of the most important music-related court cases in decades. Read more here.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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