questionable topic – uneasy matters since 2008

Timbaland: Sampling vs Plagirism

Posted in industry, music, music video, opinions, prominent persons by questionabletopic on Sunday, June 22, 2008

Timbaland’s plagiarism controversy occurred in January 2007, when several news sources reported that Timbaland (Timothy Z. Mosley) was alleged to have plagiarized several elements (both motifs and samples) in the song “Do It” on the 2006 album Loose by Nelly Furtado without giving credit or compensation.[1][2][3] The song itself was released as the fifth North American single from Loose on July 24, 2007.

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Timbaland vs Tempest & GRG

Very short summary: The commercial pop piece “Do It” by Tim “Timbaland” Mosley for Nelly Furtado supposedly has its origins in the tracker module “Acidjazzed Evening” by the Finnish C64/Amiga demoscener Janne “Tempest” Suni. See Wikipedia for a more detailed summary. Or perhaps this YouTube video if you just want to hear the similarities between all the related songs.

Note: This is just a list of links somehow related to the fuss. Some information presented as factual may actually be speculation or just plain wrong (even if repeated in multiple sources).

Doin’ it for themselves: what’s going on in Timbaland?

by Chris Abbott

It has been reported that the noted US Hip-Hop Producer Tim “Timbaland” Mosley has been accused of wholesale sampling of another person’s work in his hit for Nelly Furtado “Do It”.

About the author

Chris Abbott runs publisher and record label “High Technology Publishing Ltd.”, and its website C64Audio.com. He has also written occasionally for Edge Retro Magazine, Retro Gamer, Remix64.com and Retro Fusion. This article is purely his personal independent analysis and is in no way representing any of the parties. Any errors or misrepresentations are entirely accidental, and anything here is no substitute for the advice of a good IP Lawyer!


Background and TimelineIn 2000, Janne Suni (“Tempest”) composed a piece called “Acid Jazzed Evening” which was submitted to the Assembly 2000 Oldskool Music Competition, winning 1st place. The piece was composed in what is called “Mod” format, popular on Amiga computers in the 90s and later also on PCs. Assembly is one of the worlds oldest and largest annual demoparties. In 2000 there were 4-5000 visitors present at the event, and the associated TV footage from the event was watched by 170,000 viewers on Helsinki HTV-cable-tv and on the Internet. 35,000 of these viewers were abroad.

In 2002, the C64 composer Glenn Rune Gallefoss, well known and respected within the C64 community, produced a Commodore 64 version of this tune, with Tempest’s blessing.

In 2005, Timbaland produced a series of exclusive ringtones. One of these was called “Block Party” its release, being US specific, passed unnoticed, but it bore striking similarities to the 2002 cover of Acid Jazzed Evening.

In 2006, Nelly Furtado released her new album “Loose”, to a rapturous reception. Almost immediately Janne started to receive emails telling him of a problem with the track “Do It” appearing to feature his song. In October 2006, the forum at Remix64.com noted the issue, becoming more and more concerned about the apparent similarities in the course of the thread.

In January 2007, the story suddenly started to appear in blogs and forums, such as digg.com, slashdot.org and on YouTube. After that, the story has spread everywhere.

Assessing the claim

We here at C64Audio.com have been involved in various legal issues surrounding Commodore music, and the various defenses that record companies employ to justify their actions. We’re also technical experts about how SID music is created and realised. We are therefore almost uniquely qualified to analyse the extent of the allegations against Mr Timbaland. Here’s our take on it.

What’s the problem?

This is more of a complex question than it might appear.

i) How could Timbaland have got exposure to the piece?
ii) Is it likely coincidence was involved?
iii) Was it technically possible for him to have sampled the tune in that way?
iv) Was the track merely recreated rather than sampled?

Let’s take a hypothetical situation: let’s pretend that Mr Mosley is accused merely of borrowing the melody and chords from Tempest’s track. Would this be actionable? And would it stand up?

In such a case, it would be almost impossible to prove, since it would be difficult to prove he had exposure to the track.

Defending, the claim of coincidence would almost certainly be put forward by the record company, even if the melody and chords had been borrowed wholesale: the status of the people involved, and the relative obscurity of the piece involved, would make a scrappy court case inevitable: with no guarantee as to which side would win, even accounting for the fact that Acid Jazzed Evening was available on the Internet and it was by no means as obscure as observers might think.

If this were a simple borrowing of music, the claim of infringment might well fail.

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