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James Newton Loses to Beastie Boys: Amicus Support Requested!


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From James Newton (renowned jazz musician)

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. The Beastie Boys contacted and received permission from ECM Records, which released my album Alum which they sampled in 1992, and ignored me.

The case went up for summary judgement one month ago and Judge Nora Manuela of US Federal Court ruled against me!!!!!!!!!!! She stated as a fact of law that my music was not original! 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. The judge 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 there is only my flute sample and a drum beat.

The judge 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.

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 bankruptcy, and I stand a chance of losing my home and all that I have worked for through the years. If you can spread news of this judgement around, it will help my 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. My lawyer, Alan Korn ([email protected]), 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. 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. This is a time when I have to now ask for your help. I am fighting for my rights and the ability to express myself in my own and any other cultural perspective that I choose as an artist.

Yours in music and freedom, James Newton

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