Uncle Luke and the 2 Live Crew may have some company as the most notable Hip Hop artists to have a case heard in the Supreme Court. The 1993 case of Cambpell vs. Acuff-Rose Music holds the distinctions of both bringing Hip Hop to the Supreme Court and setting a precedent for what is considered “fair use” in copyright law. Eminem producers The Bass Brothers may join the list of Hip Hop acts in the U.S. Supreme Court if their case against Universal Music Group, Interscope Records and Aftermath Entertainment is heard. The label conglomerate has appealed to the Court after a ninth circuit court ruled that the Bass Brothers (listed as F.B.T. Productions) were due up to 50% of the royalties from digital downloads.
Since the inception of iTunes, ringtones and digital downloads, record labels have categorized digital purchases as licenses instead of sales. The distinction allowed them to pay artists a royalty rates ranging from 18 to 23% as opposed to the 50% split on master recordings that F.B.T. sought.
Documents filed to the court by UMG quote F.B.T.’s previous efforts with Eminem prior to being signed by Interscope a “commercial failure.” They also state the initial contract was amended several times since 1998 so that F.B.T. received millions from “the exploitation of Eminem’s recordings.”
After the September ruling, Universal released a written statement saying, “it should be noted that this ruling sets no legal precedent.” However, if the case is heard by the Supreme Court, any ruling will likely set a precedent in how legal digital downloads are classified and how much artists are paid for them.