Germany’s highest court has ruled against Kraftwerk in a 19-year copyright case involving a two-second sample used in a song by rapper Sabrina Setlur, Agence France-Presse reports.
The ruling favors the use of sampling and concludes that if a sample does not significantly impact the usage rights of the original artist, “then artistic freedom overrides the interest of the owner of the copyright.”
Kraftwerk’s lead singer Ralf Hütter brought the case against Setlur’s producer, Moses Pelham, in 1997 upon the release of “Nur Mir” (“Only Me”), which features a sequence culled from 1977’s “Metall of Metall” (“Metal on Metal”). While Hütter argued the sample amounted to theft — even citing the commandment “thou shalt not steal” during a hearing in November — Pelham argued that sampling was an essential component of hip-hop, and curbing it would limit artistic freedom.
In 2008, Germany’s highest civil court ruled in favor of Pelham, but in 2012 the country’s highest court for non-constitutional legal matters reversed the decision. At the time, the court stated that Pelham could have recorded a similar drum loop without using the sample, and backed financial damages and issued an injunction over “Nur Mir.”
In its ruling, Germany’s constitutional court acknowledged that sampling is one of hip-hop’s “style-defining elements,” and that blocking “Nur Mir” over the loop would “practically exclude the creation of pieces of music in a particular style,” per the BBC. The court also asserted that artists should be free to create without restriction, or financial risk from copyright claims. They ruled that sampling is therefore allowed so long as the new composition does not directly compete with the original, and does not harm the patent owners significantly.