Sampling Music, Part 1 of 3: When do I need permission?

Whether you’re producing some beats or writing a song, sometimes you may want to use a portion of someone else’s music (i.e., melody, distinguishable guitar riffs, catch percussion sounds), be it for a majority of the recording or even just a few seconds [also known as “sampling” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampling_(music)]. So, your first question might be, “When do I need to get permission for sampled music?” Well, here you go:

1. Generally, sample clearance isn’t required if you won’t be making copies of your music and you won’t be distributing them to the public, which makes sense. So, forget getting clearance if you’ll just be using the sampled music within the confines of your home.

2. What if you intend to use the sampled music when you’re performing your music live somewhere?

– As long as you’re not making copies of the music, generally, you’re fine without getting a clearance because the owner of the venue usually pays blanket license fees to performing rights organizations (PROs) like Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) or the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). However, always double check to make sure this is the case. Even if you’re performing at a small venue, and you plan to distribute/sell less than 1,000 copies, the risk of being caught, although reduced, is still there. So, getting sample clearance is pretty important especially if the whole purpose of performing live is to promote your music and yourself as an artist.

3. Even if you plan to make copies of your music (containing the sampled music) and distribute them to the public, you won’t need sample clearance if the average listener wouldn’t be able to catch the similarities between your music and the sampled portion contained in it; or your use of the sampled music falls under the “fair use” doctrine (I’ll be writing a blog post on the “fair use” at some point; for now, check the U.S. Copyright Office’s definition of fair use: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html)

– So, ways to avoid having the sampled music stand out and be so easily detectable, would be (1) burying it in your music, (2) not using the sample, or (3) even tweaking the sampled music to give it a different sound that is unrecognizable with the original. But if the whole purpose behind using the sampled music is to make your listeners/audience recognize the sound, then by all means, please get clearance for your sample. How do you do that? Well, come back Friday, October 10th and check my next blog post: Sampling Music, Part 2 of 3: How do I get permission?”

(The standard for determining whether you need a clearance for sampling is whether an average listener can hear substantial similarities between your music and the sampled portion.)

Update: Sampling Music, Part 2: How do I get permission?

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