German electronic godfathers Kraftwerk are one of the most sampled groups in history, their seminal sounds having been used by everyone from Depeche Mode to Coldplay. Now a German court case dating back to 2000 has ruled in favor of the group from Dusseldorf, and potentially changed the way that German courts rule on future uncleared sampling.
In 2000, Kraftwerk filed suit against German producers Moses Pelham and Martin Haas whose minor German hit “Nur Mir” utilized a two second sample from the groups 1977 song “Metal On Metal.” A lower court banned the song in 2004, although it’s ruling was soon overturned. In the final Supreme Court judgement, the justices ruled that sampling is only permissible if the producers could not reasonably reproduce the sound on their own. Lawyers for Kraftwerk went so far as to demonstrate that Pelham and Haas could have recreated the sound using a 1996 Akai sample and pieces of metal. Previous German sampling law stated the only melodies, not sounds, we protected.
This entirely new legal precedent opens up a lot of questions, the most obvious being who is to decide what is a reasonable reproduction of a sound. Given the infinite amount of variables when recording audio, it would be impossible to 100% recreate a sound without sampling.
Fortunately, for sampling advocates, there is still the possibility of taking the case to the Federal Constitution Court under Article 5 of the German constitution dealing with artistic freedom.
Ironically, the most famous Kraftwerk sample, used by Arthur Baker and Afrika Bambaataa on the seminal-electro classic “Planet Rock” wasn’t a sample at all, but rather a reproduction of the melody played on a synthesizer.
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