Music Sampling Grand Upright Music v. Warner Brothers Music (1991) | Leo Versel | April 19, 2016


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Music Sampling Grand Upright Music v. Warner Brothers Music (1991)

by Leo Versel Show/Hide
For decades musicians have been ‘borrowing’ the work of other artists. Dating back to early reggae, artists have been cutting tracks on turntables to include portions of someone else’s work. Often, there is no issue with this practice, either because the original artists do not mind, or because the portion borrowed from another source is too small for anyone to notice. But, as we enter an era in which information can be sent across the internet in a matter of seconds, grey areas are forming and becoming highlighted. With this project, we will explore those legal grey areas and how they have changed over time, and as the tools of the trade have evolved.On this page and subsequent subpages, you'll find case law, summaries and videos to better explain what sampling is, when it is legal, and when it is not. 
More on the case
In 1991 Gilbert O'Sullivan sued the rap artist Biz Markie for intellecual property theft over the rapper's use of his song “Alone Again (Naturally)”. Biz Markie and his producers ripped the piano audio from O'Sullivan's track and rapped over it. Listen to Biz Markie's Song “Alone Again” and a live version of O'Sullivan's song below by clicking play on the videos.


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  1. 1 Show/Hide More Grand Upright v. Warner Brothers Music (1991)
    Included is an annotation of the central case we have chosen, Grand Upright v. Warner Brothers Music. Many believe this case was hastily executed, claiming the defendant, rapper Biz Markie, was well within the confines of fair use. Nonetheless, this case set an important precedent in favor of original artists vis-a-vis music sampling.
  2. 2 Show/Hide More Mark Ronson Takes to the TED Stage to Explain and Explore Music Sampling
    Recording artist Mark Ronson is renown for his sampling techniques. This video shows his performance at the TED conference. Including this video is intended to supplement the case law included so anyone viewing this page may have a better idea of what music sampling includes.
  3. 3 Show/Hide More Scholarly articles and external links
    Below are links to additional information from experts. Other links include patent documents and news articles.
  4. 4 Show/Hide More Unkle's "Rabbit in Your Headlights"
    This music video for the band Unkle features a sample not from another musician but from the film Jacob's Ladder. It demonstrates the complexity of music sampling and legislation behind fair use.

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April 20, 2016

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Leo Versel


American University

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