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The Not So Simple Statutes Of Sampling

April 3, 2012

There are multiple things that can make or break a song, everything from how good the writing is to production and packaging. One of these things is sampling, without understanding the legalities of this delicate subject it can also break you financially. Sampling is great thing and can really set the tone for a song but without the proper paperwork and permission it can also cause that same song to never be heard again.

There are loads of cases where sampling can come back and destroy or song or even band but one of the best examples is ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ by The Verve. The band originally had permission to sample the song ‘The Last Time’ by The Rolling Stones but after it was made and released it was decided they had used too much and lost most of their rights to the song. This is an example where even with written and legal permission to use a song because the writing was not specific enough what they had was insufficient. This is used just as a brief explanation, an entire study could be written on this legal battle and much more information and details are available elsewhere.

It is also possible to sample a song without even knowing it or the intention to do so. If another artist can show that a song you created has a similar melody or overall sound to a song by them it is possible for them to claim that you stole from them. This is not a very common occurrence and is likely to only be an issue for artists who make large sums of money. The far more likely that an issue will arise with sampling being done without permission than someone going to the extent of proving that you accidentally created something similar to them.

Samples are not just restricted to other songs or music but to written passages(such as poems or books), movies, video games and general speech. The exact cost of sampling anything is determined by it’s creator and content holder. There is no minimum or maximum that a person may request as a few for the use of the material you wish to sample. Often major songs, bands labels, or companies who deal with this will often have a standard flat rate and make it simple. You can also use material in the public domain which are either old enough or originally were not protected by copyright law and free to do with as you please.

Sampling laws can be affected by year the material was created, country of origin and format. It can be a very complicated and difficult thing to even begin to grasp with very old and new laws affecting it so the best course of action when considering this is caution. Even for short and simple sample a lot of time a research can go into making sure that you have all the legal permissions you need to use it.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Pat Walsh permalink
    April 4, 2012 12:58 PM

    I once read a blog written about sampling by an Indie rapper named MC Lars. I can’t seem to find it now, but the premise was that there are ways to get around paying huge amounts in royalties for a sample.

    As a rapper, what hedoes is gather some friends to record a near-perfect cover of the song (or the portion he wants to sample). He would then pay the much smaller fee for recording a cover, then sample the cover.

    • April 4, 2012 1:08 PM

      Definitely a brilliant way to get around paying the sometimes over the top costs of sampling a song. Though I could see some people taking issue with that, especially as covering a song can have it’s own legal headaches but for someone in the rap world where sampling is much larger it is likely the best and cheapest answer.

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