Copyright Infringement?

(music to a lawyer's ears)

The following is a press release dated around July 10, 1998, seeking support for an intellectual property lawsuit. [Note: settlement was reached and announced on 21 June 1999.]

The notion of borrowing music, such as a melody, from another piece is an old practice. Some of you who took piano lessons may recall Mozart's variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." (That's not its proper name, but you know what I'm talking about.)

With the advent of modern recording devices (esp. samplers), the practice of borrowing parts of others' music to insert in one's own has shot up exponentially. Of course, given the existence of copyright laws and vigilant enforcement, there's been a corresponding increase in litigation.

This site does not unconditionally endorse the suit, but presents the release in the interests of making the public aware of such issues


 

ABORIGINES SUE FOR JUSTICE AND RECOGNITION:

Do you remember one of the theme songs promoting the 1996 Summer Olympics Games in Atlanta (singer is going, "A-E-A-O, A-EE-A-O...")? Or, for those of us in the Virgin Atlantic Advertising area, the theme song for Virgin Atlantic?

The music has sold over an estimated 8 MILLION copies world wide, and has been heard by just about everyone in the world. One might have thought the theme was sung by Native Americans. It may even sound like these Native Americans were invited to record the sound track.

[to see a picture of the cover art for the release of this single, try the URL: http://www.meridian.net.au/Music/Enigma/index.html ]

The truth is that native aborigines did sing the song. But the aborigines are from a native tribe on the island of Taiwan. And these singers had no idea that their song was going to be mixed with popular music and heard around the world. What's worse, given the success of their recording and the millions of dollars generated by their artistry, absolutely no recognition nor compensation has been awarded to the singers.

In an attempt to redress these wrongs, a lawsuit was filed in December of 1997 in the United States Federal District Court, Central District of California, on behalf of Kuo Ying-Nan and Kuo Hsin-Chu ("the Kuos"). In this case of David- and- Goliath-like proportions, the elderly couple is sparring against German pop group Enigma, Michael Cretu of Enigma, Virgin Record (Germany), Capitol-EMI Music (USA), Charisma Records of America (USA), Mambo Music (Germany), and the International Olympic Committee ("IOC") for copyright infringement of their music and for failure to attribute them as the original creators and performers of the work.

 

The Kuos are an elderly (78 and 76 years old) aboriginal couple who belong to the Ami tribe. The Ami are Malayo-Polynesian and descendants of the original inhabitants of Taiwan. They have a distinct language, culture and history separate from the Chinese. While integration efforts continue, the standard of living of the aboriginal tribes continues to lag behind their Chinese neighbors.

 

The Ami tribe has no written medium. Its history, traditions, songs and stories have been passed down orally through the generations. Members of the tribe are proud of their culture which they celebrate through song and chant.

The Kuos are revered throughout the tribe as musically gifted and prolific creators of Ami folk songs. Both the Ami tribe and the Chinese on Taiwan treasure the work of this couple and consider their songs a part of folk history.

 

The song recorded by Enigma, "Return to Innocence", was directly mixed from a song recorded years earlier by the Kuos known as, "Jubilant Drinking Song". Large portions of "Jubilant Drinking Song" were lifted and copied by Enigma into their hugely popular "Return to Innocence" track. For example, the first nine seconds of the "Jubilant Drinking Song" and the first nine seconds of "Return to Innocence" are exactly the same. What's more, over fifty percent (50%) of "Return to Innocence" contains portions of the

"Jubilant Drinking Song." Although Enigma claims that it had received permission to copy from a third party, neither that third party nor Enigma had ever received permission from the Kuos. But far worse, Enigma failed to recognize the Kuos as the creators and performers of this work.

 

The Kuos first learned of the popularization of their music when a friend of the family

heard Enigma's song, "Return to Innocence" on the radio. The Kuos are delighted that others appreciate their work enough to includ it in their own music. But they are dismayed by the fact that the Ami tribe has received no recognition for their part. When the Kuos asked Enigma about the use of their music in "Return to Innocence," they were rebuffed. A spokeman for Enigma told the couple that if they think they should be recognized as the arrangers and performers of the song, they'll have to sue and that it would cost them millions of U.S. dollars in court proceedings.

 

Angered by the response from the record company and Enigma, many people on Taiwan began to rally for the Kuos. A local Taiwan counsel, Ms. Shiu-Lan Huang, was retained for the case and efforts were made to bring suit against the infringers. Thanks to Ms. Huang's diligent efforts, an arrangement was made with an attorney in the United States to file the suit in December of 1997.

 

The Kuos remain saddened that they are forced to resort to such drastic action. They are looking for recognition and a reasonable royalty for their work. But world famous record companies and music groups such Enigma must understand that cultural heritage of any people cannot be lifted freely for commercial profiteering. They cannot deprive this culture of their music and rights and expect no legal recourse. Enigma and the ecord companies need to publicly acknowledge the voices behind this recording that allowed them to make millions of dollars! They must do the right thing!

 

For more information, please contact:

 Emil Chang, Esq.

(408)259-7797 (voice & fax)

e-mail: justice4kuos@usa.net


 For more detailed coverage of this suit, read an article in the Law News Network, titled, "An aboriginal couple's fight for recognition and a piece of recording industry profits could break new legal ground."...

     http://www.lawnewnetwork.com/stories/dec/3120798g.html



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