There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the art of sampling and clearing samples. For example, many people think that if they use a sample, don’t clear it, and release it on a free mixtape, they won’t get sued. Well, that’s wrong. Any product that an artist releases publicly with a sample not cleared, 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.
Sampling without Clearing is Piracy, no Ifs, Ands, or Buts
Piracy is the copying and distributed of copyrighted works. Normally a person may think that might require them copying and distributing a significant portion of a copyrighted work or the entire thing. That doesn’t have to be the case though.
If you want to risk taking a small element out of a recording and re-using it in your own without permission, you’re opening up to the risk of someone else interpreting that as breaking copyright law and for that, you can be sued. There are different ways to interpret copyright law but ultimately we would recommend not taking the chance.
Even released for Free, you can be Sued
Even when released for free, it’s still copyright infringement if you do not have permission to use it. Just because you don’t receive a direct financial gain from a mixtape, a lawyer may be able to argue on the revenues earned from live performances and by similar means. There are some who argue that a sampler sued on a free mixtape release may be able to win in court. Again, we don’t recommend taking the chance.
Even a Few Seconds of Sampling can get you Sued
Some people seem to share in 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.
Sampling can Apply to a Range of Different Sounds
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 need to clear it.
Why Some Artists still don’t clear their Samples
Artists don’t clear samples because they believe one of these three things – a) They believe they have the legal right to use the sample due to its length or some other reason; b) They don’t believe they will get caught; or c) They don’t know how to contact the owners of the copyright.
It’s not cool to borrow from other peoples’ work without properly referencing them. Imagine if you were in their shoes. 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 one might think. If an artist can’t clear a sample, they re-structure or they don’t release the track.
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 though, you need to clear the samples or risk being caught and then facing those consequences.