It’s been a good week for Jay Z: the rap star chatted court-side with visiting royalty at a Brooklyn Nets game and, hours earlier, vanquished a sleazy shakedown artist that had been demanding royalties for Jay Z’s use of the word “oh” in the hit song “Run this Town.”
As a federal court opinion explains, Jay Z does not have to pay for sampling the syllable “oh” from a 1969 track called “Hook and Sling” by the late pianist Eddie Bo (you can hear both tracks below).
In the 15-page ruling issued on Tuesday, the judge stressed that there is little relation between what the copyright owner described as Bo’s “exuberantly-shouted” syllable “oh,” and the 2009 hit that features Rihanna and Kanye West: (my emphasis added)
Run This Town bears very little and perhaps no similarity at all to Hook & Sling Part I. The melody and lyrics are entirely different. The lyrics do not contain the word “oh.” .. [It appears] only in the background and in such a way as to be audible and aurally intelligible only to the most attentive and capable listener.
The decision is significant since it slams the door once again on so-called “sample trolls,” which are companies that acquire recordings and then use music-parsing technology to seek out people to sue. It comes after a different New York judge last year threw out a similar case brought by the same sample troll, known as Tuf America, against the Beastie Boys.
As critics have observed, the trolls have been deleterious for hip-hop as a whole since they ensnare musicians in legal thickets over tiny sound samples, meaning that landmark albums like the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique could not have been made in today’s copyright context.
In siding with Jay Z, the court sidestepped the issue of whether Eddie Bo’s “oh” could be covered by copyright in the first place, and instead relied on a lack of similarity between the works. You can read the whole ruling below (I’ve underlined the relevant bits) or just check out the two tracks and see if you can hear the “oh.”