Madonna wins ‘Vogue’ copyright case concerning tiny horn sample

The verdict could have an impact of another copyright case involving Justin Bieber and Skrillex

Madonna has won a copyright case relating to her iconic 1990 hit ‘Vogue’.

The singer and the track’s co-writer and producer Shep Pettibone were taken to court by VMG Salsoul LLC, the company which holds the copyright to a song called ‘Love Break’ which Pettibone also worked on.

The company claimed that Madonna and Pettibone used a sampled “horn hit” from ‘Love Break’ in ‘Vogue’. However, judges at an appeals court in Pasadena, California ruled two-to-one that the sample – which lasts for just 0.23 seconds – was too small to constitute copyright infringement.

Circuit Judge Susan Graber concluded: “After listening to the audio recordings submitted by the parties, we conclude that a reasonable juror could not conclude that an average audience would recognise the appropriation of the horn hit.”

“That common-sense conclusion is borne out by dry analysis,” Graber continued. “The horn hit is very short – less than a second. The horn hit occurs only a few times in ‘Vogue.’ Without careful attention, the horn hits are easy to miss. Moreover, the horn hits in ‘Vogue’ do not sound identical to the horn hits from ‘Love Break’ … Even if one grants the dubious proposition that a listener recognised some similarities between the horn hits in the two songs, it is hard to imagine that he or she would conclude that sampling had occurred.”

However, the dissenting judge Barry Silverman told the court: “In any other context, this would be called theft.”

The verdict could have an impact on another high-profile copyright case involving Justin Bieber and Skrillex. They are accused of using an uncredited vocal sample from White Hinterland’s dance track ‘Ring The Bell’ on their hit ‘Sorry’.