Dangerous liaisons

May 07, 1992

Talk about strange bedfellows, can you imagine Michael Jackson and Ludwig von Beethoven cohabiting on the same compact disc? They can and do on "Dangerous," Mr. Jackson's most recent album. But the unlikely musical marriage has produced an unwanted offspring: a lawsuit.

It seems the Cleveland Orchestra objects to Mr. Jackson having "sampled" a 1 minute, 7 second excerpt from its 1961 CBS Records recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony -- a form of electronic borrowing common among rap musicians. So the orchestra filed a $7 million suit against Mr. Jackson and his record label, Sony Music Entertainment Inc., for copyright infringement. Beethoven's music may be in the public domain, but the orchestra contends its recording is protected property that cannot be used without permission.

The situation is complicated because Sony recently bought CBS Records, putting the orchestra in the position of suing the company for which it once recorded. It'll take batteries of lawyers to sort out this unusual wedding of classical and pop, but we trust Mr. Jackson and Beethoven eventually will end up living happily ever after. In the meantime, the episode has given new meaning to the phrase "dangerous liaisons."

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