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):