A twelve year legal battle over a two second sample has come to an end in Germany. Kraftwerk sued songwriters Moses Pelham and Martin Haas over a decade ago, claiming that the two men infringed one of their sound recording copyrights by sampling, without permission, two seconds of their 1970s track ‘Metall Auf Metall’ in a 1990s song the defendants created with rapper Sabrina Setlur called ‘Nur Mir’.
The case has bounced around the courts system for years, with a lower court siding with Kraftwerk, then an appeal court with Pelham and Haas, and then Germany’s Supreme Court ordering the Hamburg courts to reconsider the case a new.
According to The Economist’s coverage of the final stage of the dispute, the big debate wasn’t whether or not Pelham and Haas had used a snippet of a Kraftwerk track without permission, but whether or not that constituted copyright infringement under German law.
The Economist says that, in the end, the German court decided that the unauthorised sample should constitute copyright infringement providing it could be proven that the songwriters sampling the original track could have created the desired sounds in another way, so nicked the sample out of laziness rather than artistic necessity. Cue experts from Team Kraftwerk showing how, by crashing metal on metal, or employing a 1996 Akai Sampler, Pelham and Haas could have made a new sound equivalent to that they nicked. And so the court found in favour of the electro legends.
It’s an interesting development in German copyright law that could set a legal precedent in the country, albeit one hindered with the rather grey area that is “could the accused have reasonably been expected to recreate the sound?” Though we are reliant on The Economist’s interpretation of the German court hearing for now, until a full written judgement is published in the new year.