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Is sampling music a potential copyright violation?

On Behalf of | Aug 26, 2022 | Copyright Law

People create new works of art not in a vacuum but under the influence of all the artists and musicians that came before them. In the modern music industry and in the digital content world, sampling music has become a very common practice.

One musician or their producers will use a few seconds of music or singing from someone else’s song, effectively repurposing the line or a beat that was popular years ago to make it to the charts again today. This practice is so common that it plays a role in the creation of some of the biggest albums every year, but sampling is also something that new artists and unknown video creators do.

Is sampling a copyright violation?

Some forms of sampling are perfectly legal

When you hear one song sampled in another on the radio or the album of a major recording artist, you can generally assume that the musician or someone on the staff helping produce the album obtained permission or licensing to use that sample.

Sometimes, there can be controversy because an artist is not happy about the use of their music in someone else’s song. For example, there has recently been a high-profile celebrity spat because one famous female recording artist sampled a bit of a song that was popular more than a decade ago on a new album.

Although the person who owns the song or at least the rights to it gave permission for the sample, the musician known for the song did not know about the use prior to the release of the song. In that case, there were no copyright violations. Sampling can also be legal if someone alters the original to a point where the audience couldn’t identify the song that it originally came from anymore.

Sampling requires protection or may lead to copyright claims

If someone wants to sample the music of someone else or recording of someone’s voice in their music, they first need permission to do so either from the person whose song they want to use or the individual or company that owns the masters or licensing rights.

Understanding the nuance involved in sampling and copyright law can protect those creating new music and also those with an interest in protecting their existing catalog.