How 2 Live Crew Changed Copyright Law Forever

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, 2 Live Crew, a hip-hop group from Miami, Florida, faced several high-profile lawsuits over the alleged copyright infringement of their music. These lawsuits, particularly the group’s landmark victory in their case over the use of a sample from the song “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison, established important precedents for the concept of fair use in copyright law.

2 Live Crew was formed in 1984 by Luther Campbell, also known as “Luke Skyywalker,” and consisted of DJs Mr. Mixx, Amazing Vee, and Fresh Kid Ice. The group’s music was known for its explicit lyrics and controversial subject matter, and they gained widespread attention with their 1988 album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be.”

One of the songs on the album, “Pretty Woman,” sampled the melody from “Oh, Pretty Woman” without permission from Orbison’s estate. The record label Acuff-Rose Music sued 2 Live Crew for copyright infringement, but the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled in favor of the group.

In its ruling, the court found that 2 Live Crew’s use of the sample was a “fair use” under copyright law. The fair use doctrine allows for the use of copyrighted material without permission in certain circumstances, such as for the purpose of criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

The court determined that 2 Live Crew’s use of the sample was transformative, meaning that they added something new and different to the original work. The court also considered the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Based on these factors, the court concluded that 2 Live Crew’s use of the sample was protected under the fair use doctrine and did not infringe on Acuff-Rose’s copyright. The ruling was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, establishing an important precedent for the use of samples in music.

The 2 Live Crew case has been cited in numerous subsequent cases involving fair use and the use of samples in music. For example, in 1994, rapper Biz Markie was sued by Gilbert O’Sullivan for sampling his song “Alone Again (Naturally)” without permission. In a ruling that cited 2 Live Crew, the court found that Biz Markie’s use of the sample was not protected under fair use.

In 2007, the rapper Girl Talk (aka Greg Gillis) faced a potential lawsuit over his album “Night Ripper,” which contained hundreds of samples from other artists. However, the case was never pursued, with many citing 2 Live Crew as a reason why Girl Talk’s use of samples might be considered fair use.

Overall, the 2 Live Crew case and its precedent continue to have a significant impact on issues surrounding copyright law, fair use, and the use of samples in music. It remains an important part of the ongoing discussion around the boundaries of artistic expression and the protection of creative works.

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