There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the art of sampling, how to clear rights to sample songs, and clearing samples as a whole.

Many people think that if they use a sample and they don’t clear it, and then they release it on a free mixtape, they won’t get sued. That’s wrong.

Any product that an artist releases publicly with a sample not cleared or copyrighted material, they are opening themselves up to potential litigation.

Here are a few key things to remember on the art of sampling and why some artists still decide not to clear samples.

Sampling Without Clearing Is Considered Legally To Be Piracy – No Ifs, Ands, Or Buts

Piracy is the copying and distribution of copyrighted works. Normally, a person may think that this might require them to copy and distribute a significant portion of a copyrighted work or the entire thing. That doesn’t have to be the case.

Even a small portion of copyrighted material – no matter how small or insignificant – used without prior legal clearance is illegal.

For an artist, if you want to risk taking a small element out of a recording and applying it in your own recordings without permission, you’re opening up to the risk of someone else interpreting that as breaking copyright law. For that, you can be sued.

There are different ways to interpret copyright law but ultimately, we would recommend not taking the chance.

What may happen is you could end up owing money to the rights holders or may have to take down the track in question.

Even When A Song With Samples Is Released For Free, You Can Still Be Sued

You may think about self-releasing an album or putting out a track you’ve created on SoundCloud for no profit.

If you are not asking for profit or are selling the product, naturally, one might think they can do sampling without restriction.

Unfortunately, even when a song is released for free, it’s still copyright infringement if you do not have permission to use a sample. Just because you don’t receive direct financial gain from a mixtape, a lawyer may be able to argue that the revenues earned from live performances or other avenues are derived off the success of a free song or free album release.

There are some who might argue that a musician doing sampling on a free mixtape may be able to win in court but we don’t recommend taking the chance.

A court battle is a waste of time and it also puts a negative connotation around your brand that you don’t want.

Even A Few Seconds Of Sampling Can Get You Sued So Be Careful

Some people seem to share the belief that if they use less than 4 seconds of any recording, they can successfully surpass copyright law.

There is no justification for this however as nowhere does this state to be the case. There is no court decision out there or law anywhere dictating that someone can legally sample 4 seconds or less of a recording without obtaining permission.

Though you can try it and may be able to get away with it, there is always that risk that a rights holder can come along and have your release taken down.

When you’re still in the process of building your brand and you’re putting music on YouTube, social media, and arranging your profile on Spotify, the last thing you want are restrictions or some sort of legal issue preventing you from growth.

Sampling Can Apply To A Range Of Different Sounds & Auditory Aesthetics

Sampling is not just about taking from songs. It can mean any recorded sound, such as voices, conversations, a car horn, a door shutting, a sound from a movie, or anything.

If there’s a line from a movie you really dig that you want to throw in, you also need to clear it.

The art of sampling and how to clear a sample in a song is a fairly simple process. Reach out to the rights holder. Ask for permission to use the piece of music. If they grant you permission, you’re good. If they don’t respond or refuse permission, you aren’t legally allowed to proceed.

It may be a much more reasonable thing to do to replace a sample with something similar-sounding or which captures a similar flow but is not a direct copy or that is not directly inspired.

Why Some Artists Still Don’t Clear Their Samples In Hip-Hop, DJ, & Dance

Some musical artists don’t clear samples because they believe one of these three things:

  • They believe they have the legal right to use the sample due to its length or some other reason.
  • They don’t believe they will get caught.
  • They don’t know how to contact the owners of the copyright.

It’s not okay in any way to borrow from other peoples’ work without properly referencing them and you can be legally punished for it.

Do everything you can to clear a sample and if you cannot, re-structure the track. It’s happened before and it probably happens more frequently than many non-musicians think. If an artist can’t clear a sample, they re-structure or they don’t release the track. There is no way around it.

If it’s you messing around in your bedroom with some samples, as long as you don’t publicly release it, there’s no problem with that.

When it gets to releasing the material, however, clear the samples or risk being caught and then facing the consequences.

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