Kanye West’s sample-heavy album Yeezus is the subject of many debates between hip hop fans and Kanye fans alike. Some fans love Yeezus and see it as West’s ultimate level of creativity, while others see it as Kanye’s most peculiar album due to West’s use of abstract samples and sounds. However, one of the samples has caused Kanye a bit of trouble as of late.
Kanye had been facing a lawsuit stemming back to 2014 over a sample that was allegedly not cleared for the track “New Slave.” According to The Post, Kanye allegedly ripped off the sample from a Hungarian musician named Gabor Presser. The battle over the “New Slaves” sample started last May in New York federal courts.
The Budapest-based musician, Presser, was originally seeking $2.5 million in damages for copyright infringement, claiming West stole parts of his 1969 hit song titled “Gyöngyhajú Lány (“The Girl With Pearly Hair.”), which is a much nicer song title. Listen to the original song via youtube here:
To no surprise, West’s 2013 album Yeezus went platinum, selling over 500,000 units. However, Presser believes that a lot of the success of the album should be credited to “New Slaves.” Kanye used the single to promote the album, playing the song along with a video, on video projection screen in different cities across the globe. This style of promotion was never seen before and highly successful.
It was successful enough for Presser to see it and realize he got ripped off. Presser said West’s attorney emailed him shortly after the “New Slaves” promotional video, informing him the rapper, “would like to work out a deal as soon as possible.”
Presser then decided to let Kanye use the video since the talks were underway regarding making a deal in the near future. However, according to Presser, West’s attorneys sent him a $10,000 advance and claimed it obligated him “to consent to West’s unlawful use of the original composition.”
But Presser said he never took possession of the advance and also never signed a license agreement that was sent to him in January of 2014. Presser and West continued their conversations through March 2016 but the two were never able to strike a deal for one reason or another.
Kanye and Presser finally settled their lawsuit out of court on Monday – just two days before West was scheduled to be deposed in the case. According to The Post, the lawsuit was “resolved amicably.” The actual terms of the settlement have yet to be disclosed.
Copyright infringement is the unlawful use of works protected by copyright law. Sampling of any length without permission from the original composer or artist is unlawful. According to Perdue Law, the legal penalties for copyright infringement are:
- Infringer pays the actual dollar amount of damages and profits.
- The law provides a range from $200 to $150,000 for each work infringed.
- Infringer pays for all attorneys fees and court costs.
- The Court can issue an injunction to stop the infringing acts.
- The Court can impound the illegal works.
- The infringer can go to jail.
As an artist with multi-platinum hits, is it wise to sample without first getting permission? If you get caught are the costs higher than what you would have paid by handling it upfront? In this instance, only West, Presser and the attorneys know.
Attorneys who are reading this, please weigh in with your thoughts for aspiring artists.