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Court Dismisses Copyright Infringement Action against Electronic Music Artist “BT”

Publication Date: 
May 14, 2007
Source: 
Stanford Law School

He Was Accused of Copying Nine-Second Drumbeat

STANFORD, Calif., May 14, 2007— The Fair Use Project of the Center for Internet & Society at Stanford Law School announced that a New York federal judge has dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit accusing prominent electronic music artist Brian Transeau (known professionally as “BT”) of illegally copying a nine-second drumbeat from another artist. In a thirteen-page order, Judge William H. Pauley III of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that plaintiffs failed to present any credible evidence that BT copied the drumbeat at issue. Accordingly, the court entered judgment in BT’s favor and dismissed the case against him.

“We’re thrilled that the court saw through the plaintiffs’ unsupported allegations,” explained David Olson, counsel to BT and a resident fellow at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet & Society. “The Court ruled that a copyright holder must have more than conclusory statements from paid experts alleging similarities between two works. This is an important victory for BT and for all artists who might find themselves the targets of spurious copyright lawsuits.”

New York musician Ralph Vargas and his producer Bland-Ricky Roberts alleged that a nine-second drumbeat included on BT’s album “Breakz from the Nu Skool” was digitally sampled from an album that Vargas and Roberts had released in 1994 and that sold no more than 4,000 copies. BT denied that he copied the drumbeat at all, and contended the drumbeat was not subject to copyright protection in the first place.

“Plaintiffs had no credible evidence that BT copied the drumbeat, or that he ever heard Vargas’s album. This case should not have been filed. I’m happy we were able to secure a victory for BT,” explained Julie Ahrens, an attorney at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, who argued the summary judgment motion for BT.

The Fair Use Project took interest in the case because it raises issues critical to creative freedom. “Basic drumbeats and rhythm patterns should not be subject to copyright protection at all and there is substantial case law that says they are not,” explained Anthony Falzone, the executive director of the Fair Use Project and lead counsel in the case. “It’s a real problem if one musician can sue another and impose hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs just because one short drumbeat happens to sound a bit like another. It threatens creative freedom in a profound way.”

BT is not the first high-profile musician whom plaintiffs have sued. Information uncovered during litigation revealed that Vargas and Roberts previously obtained payments totaling more than $100,000 after alleging that Wu Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest sampled Vargas’s drum beats without first seeking permission. In their suit against BT, Vargas and Roberts also sued Pfizer, Inc., its ad agency Publicis, Inc., and Fluid Music, a music production company, which used the BT drumbeat in a Celebrex commercial. Pfizer, Publicis, and Fluid settled the case for an undisclosed amount of money.

“Vargas attacked my integrity as an artist. It’s very satisfying to be vindicated by the court, and reassuring to know there are organizations and lawyers out there who are willing to donate their time to help artists protect themselves and their work,” explained BT.

BT was represented pro bono in the case by lawyers from the Fair Use Project and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, a leading international law firm. A copy of the decision (Ralph Vargas and Bland-Ricky Roberts v. Brian Transeau, et. al) can be found at the following URL: http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/system/files/BT+SJ+Order.pdf

About BT

BT is a world-renowned electronic musician and recording artist. He has released five full-length albums, and has written music scores for numerous hit moves, including The Fast and the Furious, and the Academy-Award winner Monster. His latest album, This Binary Universe, has been hailed as a milestone in electronic music.

About the Fair Use Project

The Stanford Center for Internet and Society's "Fair Use Project" ("the FUP") was founded in 2006. Its purpose is to provide legal support to a range of projects designed to clarify, and extend, the boundaries of "fair use" in order to enhance creative freedom. The FUP represents filmmakers, musicians, artists, writers, scholars, and other content creators in a range of disputes that raise important questions concerning fair use and the limits of intellectual property rights. In doing so, it relies on a network of talented lawyers within the Center for Internet and Society, as well as attorneys in law firms and public interest organizations that are dedicated to advancing the mission of the FUP.

About the Center for Internet and Society

Founded by Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig in 2001, the Center for Internet and Society is a public interest technology law and policy program at Stanford Law School which engages students, academics, technologists and policy makers in exploring the interactions between technology, law and society.

About Kirkland & Ellis

Kirkland & Ellis LLP is a 1,300-attorney law firm representing global clients in complex litigation, dispute resolution and arbitration, restructuring, corporate, tax, and intellectual property and technology matters. The Firm’s litigation group is widely recognized as one of the finest in the country. The Firm has offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Munich, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

About Julie Ahrens

Julie Ahrens is a litigation attorney in the San Francisco office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. She focuses her practice on complex commercial litigation matters in federal and state trial courts. She has litigated a variety of matters in New York and California including cases involving copyright, securities regulation, contracts, and trade secrets. Beginning in June, she will be the Associate Director of the Fair Use Project.

About David Olson

David Olson is a resident fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. He has litigated numerous high-profile intellectual property cases in federal courts across the country. Beginning this fall, he will be an assistant professor at Boston College Law School.

About Anthony Falzone

Anthony Falzone is the executive director of the Fair Use Project. An experienced intellectual property litigator, he has advised and defended writers, publishers, filmmakers, musicians and video game makers on copyright, trademark, rights of publicity and other intellectual property matters. He is a frequent commentator on fair use and copyright issues on television and radio, and in print. Prior to joining Stanford Law School, he was a litigation partner in the San Francisco office of Bingham McCutchen LLP.

EDITORIAL CONTACT

Amy Poftak
Assistant Director of Communications
Stanford Law School
650.725.7516
poftak@law.stanford.edu

COMMENT

Anthony Falzone
Executive Director, Fair Use Project
Stanford Law School
650.736.9050
anthony.falzone@stanford.edu

David Olson
Resident Fellow
Center for Internet & Society
Stanford Law School
650.724-0517
dolson@law.stanford.edu