Legality of Sampling in Music

Sampling is taking one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.   Often “samples” consist of one part of a song, such as a rhythm break, which is then used to construct the beat for another song.

When Clearing is Required

In general, sample clearance is required only if you plan to make copies of your music and distribute the copies to the public. You are just using the sampled music at home.  Also live shows because the owner of the venue pays the blanket license fees to performing rights organizations such as Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) or American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

When Clearing is NOT Required

If you only sell/make profit from recordings at your shows and you don’t distribute more than one thousand copies, your risk of getting into trouble is lower. The owner of the source recording will be unlikely to find out that you sampled his/her work. However, if your recording becomes popular at clubs or on the radio, or if a major label wants to pick it up, you’ll have to deal with sample clearance.

  • If you make the sample unrecognizable, If you alter a sample so that an average listener cannot hear any substantial similarities between your work and the sample, there’s no violation of the law.
  • burying it in the mix, not using the sample as the groove or hook
  • not using the title of the source music in the title of your song.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a license that allows for legal sampling of the work provided the resulting work(s) are licensed under the same terms. Here is more information: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/