The German supreme court has ruled in favour of Kraftwerk in one of the country's most important and longest-running sampling cases. For 12 years, courts have been arguing about two seconds of Kraftwerk's music, borrowed for a hip-hop song in the mid-90s.
The seconds in question were taken from Kraftwerk's 1977 song Metall auf Metall. In 1997, composer-producers Moses Pelham and Martin Haas sampled the track's clanging beat for Nur Mir, a rap-rock track by the Frankfurt MC Sabrina Setlur. That song reached No 27 in the German charts.
In 2000, Kraftwerk took Pelham and Haas to court. Nur Mir's sample had not been cleared, and the group argued that this constituted copyright infringement. For more than a decade the case bounced between lower and higher courts, until on 13 December the supreme court issued its decision.
This is a crucial case for Germany, where the courts are exploring the limits of fair use in sampling. According to the Economist, the judges said uncleared samples are permissible only "if the same effect could not have been produced by the new artist himself". Accordingly, expert witnesses were asked to smash pieces of metal and demonstrate the sounds on a 1996 Akai sampler. The band's lawyers were apparently able to demonstrate that if Pelham and Haas had wanted to, they could have recorded Nur Mir's beat themselves.
Still, the battle is not quite over. The defendants' lawyer, Udo Kornmeier, said the supreme court decision might be a violation of article five of the German constitution, which governs freedom of expression, including the right for art to be "informed without hindrance from generally accessible sources". Pelham and Haas are considering taking their case even higher, to Germany's constitutional court.