Tales of Copyright Royalties
June 20, 2002
Letter From James Newton About the Decision on Beastie Boys Sampling of His Tunes

Here's an article for more backround about this situation, of which I just heard of today for the first time, and am not claiming to know anything about.

Nevertheless, I found the letter below (that was forwarded to me on a mailing list) pretty interesting:

To whom it may concern,

It seems like a real "Weird Nightmare" to be writing you this email. For the last two years I have been involved in a suit because the Beastie Boys sampled a part of my composition "Choir" and did not contact me for permission. They did not change in any way what they sampled from "Choir". It begins with the sampled six and a half seconds and loops in the song over forty times. "Pass the Mic'" has appeared in CD, MP3, LP, and DVD formats.

The law clearly states that to use someone else's music one must contact and receive permission from both the record company and the copyright owner. "Choir" was registered with the copyright office and ASCAP in 1978. My publishing company JANEW MUSIC controls 100% of the rights. Nevertheless the Beastie Boys only contacted and received permission from ECM Records and ignored me.

The case went up for summary judgement one month ago and Judge Nora Manella of US Federal Court ruled against me!!!!!!!!!!! She stated as a fact of law that my music was unoriginal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The liner notes of Axum begins with a quote from the New York Times that "James Newton is the most accomplished and original flutist now playing Jazz".The year that Axum was released (1982) was also the first year that I won the Down Beat International Critics Poll as the best jazz flutist. The judge must feel that her opinion is more significant than all of the experts in the field.

The six and a half second sample consists of three sung notes C,Db ,C and a held flute harmonic C2, as a result of the combination of voice, harmonic and a balanced distribution of each a series of shifting multiphonics are created. She ignored the multiphonics because they weren't written on the score and said that there are just three notes in the score which aren't protectable. If you go to the Beastie Boy's DVD of the piece "Pass the Mic" to signify the song their is only my flute sample and a drum beat . There is a spectrograph that moves wildly when my multiphonics are played. If there was only one pitch the movement would be minimal. She also consistently used European paradigms to judge my music. An aria from Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" and Cole Porter's "Night and Day" were examples of what is protectable. "Choir" is about four black women singing in a church in rural Arkansas. This work is a modern approach to a spiritual. As you well know, one would be hard-pressed to find multiphonic fingerings in most jazz scores, even when multiphonics are used!!!! If I'm writing for a classical ensemble I'll write out the multiphonic fingerings because of how notation is used in that culture of music.

Spirituals come out of the oral tradition, and if they are notated they're in the most simplest form which is the way that I wrote out "Choir" On the same LP one can find "The Neser" which is influenced by Ravel and is a 8-minute work for flute quartet where everything is written out except a short alto flute cadenza. I certainly didn't become dumb when I dealt with my own culture in "Choir." The urgency of this letter is that after unjustly winning the case the Beastie Boys have filed a motion with the court for me to pay their legal fees of $492,000 after they stole my music. I have already spent a considerable amount of money for a creative musician and college professor. This would, of course, send me into bankrupcy, and I stand a chance of losing my home and all that I have worked for through the years. If you can spread the press release around to your colleagues in the European press, it will help the cause greatly. The more newspapers, magazines and journals that this is placed in will help. Please inform us of any press that appears so that we can use it in our legal endeavors. Also any of you that are heads of organizations or lawyers please contact my lawyer, Alan Korn (aakorn@igc.org), and he can give you the information of where to send Amicus letters.

This decision is a dangerous one that would affect jazz composers and other composers that choose to write in other ways. I have had plenty of training to write all of my scores in the most eurocentric Boulezian fashion but why should I be forced to to please a Judge who has very limited musical knowledge, certainly little of the Afro-American musical tradition. The strain on this trial and subsequent rulings have been immense. It has curtailed much of my artistic output because of the seriousness of this situation. For many years I have tried to give much as an artist and educator to the world community. This is a time when I have to now ask for your help. I have never sued anyone in all of my years on the planet up to this point. I am fighting for my rights and the abilty to express myself in my own and any other cultural perspective that I choose as an artist. Please spread this around as much as possible.

Yours in music and freedom,

James Newton

Posted by Lisa at June 20, 2002 10:42 AM | TrackBack
Me A to Z (A Work In Progress)

He wanted $1.8 million for a six seconds, three notes sample, that the Beastie Boys paid for. He did't accept an off-court agreement.

Now that he has lost, he may have to pay $500.000 to the Beastie Boys for legal fees.

I'm not sure who's right. Certainly it's not "afro-american jazz composer" vs. "greedy pop stars".

Posted by: g. on November 7, 2002 09:53 AM

I agree, g...this world is becoming very sue happy. Yes, they should not have used his music without asking. If they had, would he have asked for 1.8 mil? I don't think so...principle only goes so far before you need to conceed to protect yourself. Exercising caution and protecting oneself from those who obviouly could outlast any legal battle if only financially speaking is far more sensible than risking house, life, and happiness should you lose. I don't know who is really won, but I do know who lost.

Posted by: Taco on April 24, 2003 04:09 PM

If someone offers you a good settlement, then you should take it and if you are really doing it to protect the music you should only want your legal fees paid. Mr. Newton is acting more like a boy than the beasties.

Posted by: Will on July 17, 2003 09:28 AM

It sounds like the Beastie Boys contacted the record company and licensed the sample legally. Mr. Newton should be suing his manager for allowing him to sign a contract in which he does not recieve monetary compensation for licensing his work.

Posted by: Chubba on August 5, 2003 10:16 PM

This guy is a complete asshole. It's 3 notes for christ sakes. What an idiot!


Posted by: Tim on August 30, 2003 02:32 PM

As a composer and Artist myself, i can see the point that this guy is making. the amount he is suing for, in my opinion is fair because it is the principle of stealing music that he is fighting against. if it were any other group taking his music, he would sue the same. they way i see it, the amount this man is asking protects all other composers in the world from the same fate. Yes he gets the moeny, but we get the reassurance that we have the ability to protect ourselves inthe same way. Another point to take is that the beastie boys 'sampled' his music, didnt rewrite it as their own, but sampled a recording that was written by him. that means the eastie boys knowingly took HIS music, not just 3 notes. This is purely just my opinion, thanks for your time.

Posted by: Alan on December 6, 2004 11:54 PM
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