The controversial “sampling” phenomenon--in which artists lift snatches of music from old hits, could be headed for a California court test.

Lawyers representing Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, the mainstays of the Turtles who now perform as Flo & Eddie, filed suit on July 13 in U.S. District Court against the members of the popular rap trio De La Soul, their record producer, Paul Huston; and their record company, Tommy Boy Music.

The plaintiffs charge unauthorized use of the first four bars of the Turtles’ 1969 hit “You Showed Me” on De La Soul’s smash album, “Three Feet High and Rising.” They content that the introduction to the Turtles’ hit--repeated several times in a tape loop--forms the basis of “Transmitting Live From Mars,” a selection on the De La Soul album.


The suit, which calls for $1.7 million in exemplary and punitive damages, alleges that Flo & Eddie were not asked permission for use of their recording by De La Soul and have received no royalties or payments for its use.

It’s not the first time that sampling has led to legal action. R&B; performer Jimmy Castor sued the Beastie Boys in federal court in New York in 1987 for the Beasties’ unauthorized use of Castor’s mid-70s R&B; hit, “Yo! Leroy.”

But Flo & Eddie’s attorney, Evan S. Cohen, said that the extent of the use makes this case go beyond routine sampling.

“Sampling usually involves very short uses--a guitar riff, a yell, a piano sound,” he said. “The reason there have been very few lawsuits on this issue is how can you put a value on a second or two of someone else’s music in a four-minute song? But here you’re talking about a new composition that is based entirely on someone else’s recording.”

Tommy Boy Music’s attorney, Ken Anderson, said the company doesn’t agree with the filing characterization of what’s used on the De La Soul album. “I’m not saying there is no sample of the Turtles, but other things are also involved (on the track) that are not the Turtles,” he said.