On June 3, 2005, the Sixth Circuit issued its final amended opinion in Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films,' in which it held that any amount of unauthorized digital sampling from a sound recording is per se copyright infringement. The court justified this ruling on what it termed a "literal reading" of Section 114 of the Copyright Act, which covers the rights a copyright holder has in a sound recording. While such a bright-line rule may have some superficial appeal, the court's efforts at harmonizing current music industry practices with copyright laws written long before such practices were commonplace has resulted in greater protection for a sound recording copyright than a musical composition copyright, a result not intended by the statute.
Under the Constitution, the "primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but 'to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, [by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries]."' "To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work." Therein lies the tension at the heart of the digital sampling dilemma: the desire to incentivize creativity by granting authors some control over their creations, while at the same time trying not to stifle creativity by limiting others' access to those creations.
Michael J. Galvin,
A Bright Line at Any Cost: The Sixth Circuit Unjustifiably Weakens the Protection for Musical Composition Copyrights in Bridgeport Music v.Dimension Films,
9 Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/jetlaw/vol9/iss3/5