What’s the Law/Rules Around Using Samples

Does anyone have a good handle on this?

Let’s say you just lift a snare off a commercially released record, does this need clearing with the artist/label/publisher?

If you use something and mangle it so it’s not really recognisable against the original… does this need any action?

Where’s the line when it comes to chopping and slicing?

I used an acapella recently over my own track, tried to upload it to Soundcloud and it’s algorithm knocked it back straight away as a copyright infringement… which I get… if it’s that obvious that seems like it’s definitely crossed the line… but it makes me wonder where the threshold is?

Is there any definitive ruling on it? Or is it open to interpretation/challenge??

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Depends heavily on the use case.

If the track you make is going to be for commercial release and will be sold, then you have to be very careful. Even a snare hit can be classed as a copyrightable performance by the original artist.

Mangled, not so worrysome, but anything that can clearly be traced back to an original recording needs clearance in some fashion for commercial release (including streaming).

And if it has a tune in it you might have to give a writing credit to the artist, and share publishing with them. They usually get to dictate the terms and can take 100% if they want, depending on how much $$$ their lawyer charges per hour.

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i was wondering too … let’s say i use a conversation-sample from a movie and mangle it like hell … what is then?
an example: from the movie 2001 “My God, it’s full of stars”

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Shouldn’t the situation at least in europe be clear after the Kraftwerk case?

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Film and speech in general is a different question, because there is no musical content it comes under plain fair use copyright policy as far as i know. Film is obviously copyrighted, but they don’t have much reason to sue for using a sample of speech as it can’t really be argued in a court that that single use would jeopardise their revenue or be a clear infringement in the same field. In the UK all public airings of a film/tv show/documentary, basically any kind of motion picture are supposed to be cleared via the BFI for a fee. My friend did the job for some years and used to answer the phone to little old ladies who wanted to play a tv show in their church hall. He would charge them £10 or some nominal fee. But i’ve never heard of anybody being sued for using a speech sample.

If it’s of a living person i suppose you might end up doing what Powell did with his sample of Steve Albini, and ask the person in question if it’s ok to use. Worst is that they can say no. Second worst is they might want some money. And i suppose if it was a significant enough part of the track they could ask for a writing credit and the subsequent publishing. But it’s extremely unlikely.


Charlie Clouser shared his experience with uncleared samples a few years back:

In 1995 or so I did some remixes for the band I was in at the time. I had a DAT cassette with audio snippets from a bunch of weird documentaries and stuff that I’d sample from - mostly for weird noises and ambiences like factory machinery, etc., but there was one documentary on that tape about religion in America, with interviews, snake handlers and crazy preachers, etc. I sampled a tiny snippet of the interviewer asking, “Do you believe in miracles?” and the interviewee responding, “Not really…”

I dropped that tiny soundbite into a break in the remix - the “Not really” part was in a hole where everything dropped out just before a huge chorus came blasting in. The guy saying, “Not really…” was lighting a cigarette, and you could hear him flip his Zippo open and his speech was kind of pinched, as it would be when you’re holding a cigarette in your mouth… all in all, very unique and charismatic.

The remix came out only on the European edition of a Maxi-CD with six or seven other remixes by various folks - the US version did not have my remix on it, so it was a pretty obscure release, and in the late 1990’s, way before file sharing, etc. - so pretty much only the hardcore fans of the band had access to my remix. We only pressed a few thousand of that version of the CD.

Wouldn’t ya know it - the guy who produced the original documentary was not dead and gone, and was in fact teaching in a film program somewhere, and he showed his documentaries to his students. When that moment came up, with the very unique sound of the guy saying, “Not really”, some got-danged student piped up and said, “Wow! Did you know that’s been sampled in a song by my favorite band?”. The teacher had never heard of our band, but when he found out that we were fairly well-known and had used a snippet of his work, he got dollar signs in his eyes and the phone calls started.

What are the odds? I mean, seriously? Literally five seconds, seven words, from a 20-year-old documentary that I recorded off of PBS when I was in college, dropped 4 minutes in on a harsh industrial remix that was like track six on a CD full of gnarly unlistenable noise that only our hardcore fans in Europe would ever hear.

Anyway, we had to pay $8,000 to get out of that one.

Eight. Thousand. Dollars.

And them’s 1995 dollars, too.

I got scolded for that one by management - we paid the producer of the documentary $8k and burned a few thousand more in lawyer time. It would have been a lot cheaper if we’d gone to the producer beforehand and secured the rights - he might have even given us the rights gratis - but how the hell was I gonna find him? I just had a DAT tape with the audio from a zillion different sources, with no credits or other info about where the stuff came from. The best I could do was, “It was some documentary on PBS about religion”. So if you sample and release without securing rights then they’ve got you by the short and curlies. What are you gonna do, recall all the CDs? Go to people’s houses and swap their CD for a “scrubbed” version? Too late. Gotta pay.

So… sure, sample away! But get clearances first or be prepared to pay and pay when you’re found out.

Here’s the clip on YouTube (go to 4:02 if it doesn’t cue up to the spot):



:joy::joy: I’ve used this in a track… as have 1000s probably. I realised later that mine sounded better without it too. :upside_down_face:

More on this topic:

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I blatantly do whatever I want and use acapellas from YouTube or my crates all the time. While I will upload things, this stuff mostly lives on my samplers and only gets used in DJ sets (which is fine, I still like having exclusive content for those purposes).

I am not a lawyer and might be totally wrong ; also, my evidence is purely anecdotal from reading tons of these discussions over the years–but in the Charlie Clouser story he got caught after something and been published and sold. My sense of things is that it could be true that youre a tad safer if you haven’t made money or published something through a licensed publisher (edit: which I would definitely count SoundCloud et al as these days at least for the purposes of this discussion)

From what I can tell youre mostly not able to upload things to streaming platforms that contain obvious samples so they can cover their own a$$ or you might get a cease and desist letter from a lawyer asking you to remove the content and you’ll be rewarded with no further trouble (that’s if you manage the upload of course). Or if the owner contacts the platform they may remove the content themselves and you could possibly lose your account or be blocked for breaking terms of service.

I mean, you technically can’t play FM radio in a retail setting without paying some kind of fees (at least in the US). DJs are supposed to pay fees to play other people’s music in clubs (though in dance music I think there is a mutual understanding that we all play each other’s music).

At the very least, I see absolutely no reason not to do whatever you want, have some fun playing with other people’s material to make your own and share with a few friends or peers.

I can’t blame people for wanting paid for their work if someone else is profiting from it. But if they are going to get big mad about me pulling a vocal phrase from one of their songs for a 4 minute house beat I play out a couple times that like…300 people total heard but don’t have a copy of that just seems ridiculous to me–the whole point of me using it is people recognize and like it and oh yea, I just reminded them you existed and all I got were two lousy drink tickets.

Block and Crown and their peers make funky house remixes of very popular songs regularly and I can’t imagine their music (no offense, I play their stuff) generates enough profit to pay for a Snoop Dogg acapella.

Edit: but basically the answer is technically you can’t use other musician’s stuff, it just depends on if they want to pursue it. As stated above, rules are different for film, tv etc. Music seems the most hardcore about usage. Just as a point of comparison, pretty sure you’d never get in trouble for recording yourself reading a quote from a book and using it in your track.

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Yah, really depends on the end goal. Back in the day (early - mid 2000s) I quite happily lifted anything from anywhere and showed it off to anyone who cared to listen. Other people actually playing gigs gave exactly zero craps about doing such things too and nobody cared.

But these days, I’d rather stick to stuff that can at least be theoretically sold on bandcamp with no worries. If I was doing local gigs I’d happily engage in a bit of creative sampling though because it’s hella fun.

Yea. I agree. I absolutely would not try to sell something and as I said I rarely upload that kinda stuff to a streaming platform (usually DropBox if I want someone’s opinion on it online). If I’m feeling generous and want someone else to have a copy its on a CDR or via USB stick. At least then there isn’t a digital record of “distribution.”

I’'ll take a bit more of a chance with uploading a DJ set with my beat using a sample in it as I feel like the AI isn’t that good yet. So far on Mixcloud the AI just calls it “unknown” and moves on (just in my experience).

Good story.

In this instance it’s blatantly obvious why they got stung. We’re talking a multi-million selling band and some guy discovering they have used his work without prior approval. That money they paid was basically to avoid losing in court, which they would have done, irrespective of the limited release.

I doubt that $8000 made much of a dent in Trent Reznor’s bank balance. He probably blew that much on heroin each week.

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True. no-one’s really gonna give a shit about people ripping stuff off as a hobby when the chance of them blowing up in the public consciousness is about the same as winning the lottery. I suspect the worst that would happen is a takedown notice, unless the the rights holder is particularly vicious.

The point I was trying to make is that docos & tv are just as protected by copyright as movies, even if there’s less resources devoted to protecting it. Artistic copyrights might not apply but there’s still recording rights that can be applied.

well, what if I reproduce a conversation from a movie with my (ethereal :rofl:) voice? That’s stealing, isn’t it?

what about moans and cries from a porn-movie?

btw i found this one https://archive.org/ … i think it’s free

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I am no defender of intellectual property, but it seems anyone who includes a sample of a recognizable work is attempting to “capitalize” (in the “small c” sense of the word) on that sample.

I don’t know. I know if you use enough of a specific song that’s copyrighted you need to pay royalties if you intend to sell it. Otherwise for personal use don’t sweat it, but say you use something up front you know is copyrighted, if the song is good enough to sell and it does well it could only be a good thing anyway even if your paying royalties.

Feel free to use anything I have posted in “current sounds coming from your gear”. Not everyone makes music for a living. More than happy to share as long as you give me some credit :slight_smile:


If it’s low budget enough I’d assume they’ve used EastWest samples instead of the real thing

What about white labels? I mean those records with no artist or track info. There’s a lot of them with the use of full song remixes from famous artists and songs. Is white labeling a way to distribute copyright infringement material without the risk of being sewed?

Are you breaking the law if you sample a legit sample without permission?

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