Hungarian folk singer: Beyoncé stole my voice

Loops and loopholes: Juhasz is suing Beyoncé for using her voice without permission

Queen Bey's hit single ‘Drunk in Love’ has sold millions of copies worldwide. But a little-known folk singer is now suing her for using her voice without permission. Is sampling fair game?

Beyoncé: a name and voice recognised the world over. Monika Miczura Juhasz, a Hungarian folk singer, is perhaps not quite so well known. But the two singers are now at legal loggerheads after Juhasz accused the queen of pop and her hip hop mogul husband, Jay Z, of sampling one of her songs without permission.

Juhasz claims that Beyoncé’s number one song ‘Drunk in Love' makes use of over one and a half minutes of her track 'Bajba, Bajba Pelem', which Juhasz recorded in 1995. She claims that 29% of Beyoncé’s song should be credited to her and has requested that a judge prohibit the song from being played until her voice is removed.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Juhasz is annoyed that Beyoncé has used her song in an entirely inappropriate way. While the lyrics of her song are about hopelessness, Beyoncé has digitally manipulated Juhasz’s voice ‘to evoke foreign eroticism’ alongside Beyoncé's 'sexually intense lyrics’.

Sampling exploded onto the hip hop scene in the late 1970s and 1980s. DJs began to experiment increasingly with technology, creating new sounds out of pre-existing melodies, lyrics, and sometimes the spoken word.

It’s a technique that has sparked controversy at every turn. There have been numerous cases where aggrieved artists have sued for vast sums of money after learning that elements of their work have hit the airwaves without their consent.

Despite this, sampling has played a major role in the evolution of hip hop, featuring in hit after hit. One famous example is Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’, which uses the instantly recognisable bass line from Queen and David Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure.’

And sampling continues to provoke debate today. The producer of last year’s viral dance craze ‘Harlem Shake’ landed himself in a world of legal trouble for featuring the voices of Hector Delgado and MC Jayson Musson without their permission. While Musson shrugged it off, Delgado was furious: ‘It’s almost like he came on my land and built a house’, he raged.

Beg, steal or sample

Rap’s constant reinvention and remixing of old sounds makes it what it is, some say. Often the sampling is virtually impossible to detect, and when it is, new artists argue they are merely paying homage to past greats, who in turn are often flattered that their music has been reworked for a new generation.

But others argue that it amounts to little more than daylight robbery. Why should an artist, who may be relatively obscure, receive no credit or acknowledgement for their work, and have no say in how powerful stars like Beyoncé choose to appropriate their music? Sampling is exploitative: it is a lazy way of making music that suggests a total lack of creativity.

You Decide

  1. Is Beyoncé justified in sampling Juhasz’s music?
  2. What’s the difference between plagiarism and drawing on someone else’s work?

Activities

  1. In groups, write down three things you like about modern music today, and three reasons why you don’t like it.
  2. What is music? Try to come up with a definition and share it with your class — it’s not as easy as you might think!

Some People Say...

“Vibrant cultures borrow, remix and recast. Static cultures die.’Tim Wu”

What do you think?

Q & A

Beyoncé is the queen of pop! She can do no wrong.
Are you sure? Sometimes the artists we admire and the lyrics we love require more thought than we give them. Critics have already criticised the lyrics of ‘Drunk in Love’, claiming that they condone domestic violence. She was also branded insensitive earlier this year when she sampled an audio clip on her song ‘XO’ relating to the crash of the Challenger space shuttle, which killed all seven crew members.
But pop stars don’t have to be role models.
Maybe not, although some would argue that they naturally exert enormous influence and power. For an artist like Beyoncé, who refers to herself as a ‘modern day feminist’, using Juhasz’s work without her consent seems unfair, although Beyoncé is yet to respond to the lawsuit.

Word Watch

Drunk in love
‘Drunk In Love’ appears on Beyoncé’s self-titled 2013 album, which has sold more than five million copies worldwide. The song itself has also been purchased more than 1.6 million times in the US alone.
Aggrieved artists
The Verve famously lost all their revenue from ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ by sampling the Rolling Stones without permission. Yet Dangermouse’s album ‘The Grey Album’, a mashup of Jay Z’s ‘The Black Album’ and The Beatles’ ‘White Album’, was approved by artists Jay-Z, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, despite EMI trying to block its distribution.
Sued
Artists often defend the use of sampling from accusations of copyright infringement by citing the doctrine of fair use. Judges then consider whether the sampling is ‘transformative’ or merely ‘derivative.’ But defendants often prefer to strike deals out of court to avoid the huge costs involved in a trial.
Evolution
‘La Di Da Di,’ Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s 1984 hit, is one of the most sampled songs of all time. It has been used by the likes of Snoop Dogg, Notorious B.I.G and even Miley Cyrus.

Subjects

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