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James Newton Sues Beastie Boys for Copyright Infringement Over Digital Sampling


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On May 9, 2000, award winning jazz and classical flutist and composer, James Newton filed suit in U.S. District Court, Central District of California, alleging copyright infringement by the Beastie Boys, their producer, record label and publishing company over the unauthorized sampling of Newton’s solo flute composition Choir, from the 1982 ECM album “Axum.” In his suit, Mr. Newton charges that the Beastie Boys used his composition and unique musical style as the principal backdrop of their 1992 hit single Pass the Mic, and on numerous remixes, including Pass the Mic (Pt. 2, Skills to Pay the Bills) and Dub the Mic. The song Pass the Mic was featured on “Check Your Head,” the best-selling Beastie Boys’ CD that was recently certified double platinum by the RIAA. This hit song has been a staple of Beastie Boys’ live performances, has appeared in music videos and films, and was recently included on the Beastie Boys recent anthology release “The Sounds of Science."

Although the Beastie Boys acknowledge using Newton’s solo flute composition in liner notes to “Check Your Head,” the band only licensed the sound recording from the record label, and failed to contact Newton or ask permission to use his composition. According to attorney Alan Korn, who filed the complaint on behalf of James Newton, “It is standard music industry custom to obtain two licenses when a musical sample is used – a license to use the sound recording and a license to use the underlying musical composition. This was particularly warranted here, since the Beastie Boys sampled six-seconds of James Newton’s Choir and looped this sample over 40 times throughout their song. It is inconceivable that the Beastie Boys, or their record label and publisher, were unaware of the need to contact Mr. Newton to obtain a sample license."

In addition to alleging copyright infringement, Mr. Newton’s suit charges that the unauthorized use of his unique and distinctive solo flute style constitutes false designation of origin under §43 of the Lanham Act. According to Mr. Newton, “the signature sound I have developed on the flute is nowhere more apparent than on Choir, which makes prominent use of my distinctive multiphonic and vocalization technique."

Mr. Newton’s work has been extensively profiled in publications such as the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 3rd Ed., and the book Mobius Music: The European & Afro-American Flute Traditions by Daniel Clemence Fawcett, and he has been the consecutive winner of Downbeat Magazine’s International Critics and Reader’s Poll for Outstanding Flutist for almost two decades. Currently, he is a Senior Professor of Music at University of California Irvine and California State University, Los Angeles, as well as the Artistic Director of the Luckman Fine Arts Complex.

For more information, contact Alan Korn ( at 415.362.5700, or Joe Mathis ( at 310.814.2228.

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