Amen for crowdfunding

December 2015

Music publishing, recorded music



One of the musicians behind the most-sampled pieces of music in history has finally been rewarded for the work. Not by the courts – but by a crowdfunding page. The Amen Break – a six-second drum solo in The Winstons’ 1969 track “Amen, Brother” – was performed in 1969 by drummer Gregory Cylvester “G. C.” Colem


The six second riff has been sampled by artists including The Prodigy, Oasis and NWA. It became very widely used as sampled drum loops in breakbeat, hip hop, breakbeat hardcore, hardcore techno and breakcore, drum and bass (including old school jungle and ragga jungle), and digital hardcore music. The Amen Break was used extensively in early hiphop and sample-based music, and became the basis for drum-and-bass and jungle music— “a six-second clip that spawned several entire subcultures.” It is one of the most sampled loops in contemporary electronic music and arguably the most sampled drum beat of all time.


But its writers never received any royalties from those recordings. In an effort to correct that, British DJs Martyn Webster and Steve Theobald set up a crowdfunding page (GoFundMe) and Spencer  urged musicians who had used the sample to “do the right thing” and pay up – which has now delivered a £24,000 cheque to The Winstons’ vocalist, sax player and arranger Richard L Spencer. In recent articles Spencer is named as the ‘copyright owner’. He wrote the arrangement for the song and owned the copyright on the track, along with drummer Gregory Coleman, who died homeless in 2006. Spencer  is on record as saying that he considers musical works based on the sample to be both “plagiarism” and “flattering.


“Thank you so much for this great contribution to my life,” he said in a video statement on Facebook. It seems the band and writers were unable to seek legal redress because of the statute of limitations in the USA which puts a 3 year bar on actions, although the Statute of Limitations (both in the UK and USA) isn’t quite as simple as that. Clearly whoever wrote the sampled work – or owns the sound recording incorporating it  – should be able to bring an action against any unauthorised sample made within the last three years. But the general rule is that a plaintiff could bring a action for up to 3 years after the DISCOVERY an infringement. If you are unaware (and had no reason to BE aware) of an infringement, the clock doesn’t begin ticking until the infringement is discovered – when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action. Spencer could of course bring legal actions against sound recordings incorporating the work which were made within the last three years.


Wikipedia says the four bars of the Amen Break have been sampled 1,862 times – far ahead of other popular samples like James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, which appears in 1,136 songs, and Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It)” which features in 1,324 tracks. and and

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