1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Kraftwerk lose out in sampling court case

May 31, 2016

Germany's top court overturns a verdict banning the sale of a song by music producer Moses Pelham and rapper Sabrina Setlur. They had sampled a Kraftwerk track without asking permission, prompting a long-running case.

Image: Peter Boettcher/Kunstsammlung NRW

Musician Moses Pelham has won a partial victory at Germany's Constitutional Court, which on Tuesday overturned a 2012 ruling banning the sale of an 1997 song called "Nur mir" ("Only to me").

The legal dispute originated when electro-pop legends Kraftwerk complained, angered at Pelham "sampling" a two-second segment of the 1977 track "Metall auf Metall" and using it on an endless loop for rapper Sabrina Setlur's song. Initially, Kraftwerk won an injunction from Germany's top criminal court (the BGH) - prompting Pelham to use his only remaining recourse for appeal and to apply for the Constitutional Court to reconsider the verdict.

Moses Pelham
Producer and composer Moses PelhamImage: picture alliance/dpa/U. Deck

During the long-running case, Kraftwerk's lead singer Ralf Hütter has insisted that the commandment "thou shalt not steal' also applied to music. Meanwhile, Pelham argued that sampling is common practice in the hip hop genre.

The court in the German city of Karlsruhe agreed on Tuesday that Pelham's case should be decided anew.

The court ruled that composers can, under certain conditions, incorporate external audio clips into their own music without asking permission and do not have to pay royalties. If the copyright infringement is only "marginal," the court said, then artistic freedom takes precedence over the intellectual property rights of the original musician.

The verdict had been hotly anticipated in the music industry, with arguments both for and against Kraftwerk's bid to protect their past material.

msh/mm (AFP, dpa)