As the surviving members of the Beastie Boys grieve the loss of Adam “MCA” Yauch, they’re also facing a horrendously ill-timed lawsuit involving two of their most beloved albums. AllHipHop reports that on May 3, a day before Yauch died from cancer, record label Tuf America sued the group for copyright infringement over tracks from 1986 debut License to Ill and its sample-collage masterpiece follow-up, 1989’s Paul’s Boutique.
Filed in federal court in New York, the lawsuit alleges unauthorized use of two songs by Washington, DC-based R&B group Trouble Funk. The Beastie Boys members stand accused of sampling parts of Trouble Funk’s 1982 song “Drop the Bomb” on two Licensed to Ill tracks, “Hold It Now Hit It” and “The New Style,” as well as on Paul’s Boutique track “Car Thief.” Tuf America also accuses the Beastie Boys of using Trouble Funk’s 1982 song “Say What” on Paul’s Boutique track “Shadrach.” The label says it came to these conclusions based on an extensive analysis, and notes that the Beastie Boys and Capitol Records are still earning money from these releases thanks to recent reissues. The lawsuit seeks a trial to figure out potential punitive damages.
Aside from adding insult to injury, the lawsuit also underscores why, as Slate recently pointed out, they quite literally don’t make records like License to Ill or Paul’s Boutique anymore. Current copyright law follows the mold of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” and Vanille Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” which in effect means that major-label artists who want to build a whole song off a single sample are often able to do so. Artists who prefer to draw from multiple different sources, such as Girl Talk, are left releasing their music for free or not at all — which is a stark contrast with the standards of commercial appropriation set by, for instance, the British blues musicians of the last century. Everybody steals from everybody, but only some people can get away with it.