BCM112 · Daily Creative · Digital Media

Music Sampling and Copyright

This Soundcloud podcast looks at copyright law in relation to music, and song sampling, giving a brief overview on how it is approached in our current society.  Copyright is intended as a system which protects the original works of creators, and is designed to incentivise creation, however the system as it stands creates a group of large organisations which hold most of the power, leaving the creator with little to work with.  There is an imbalance of power between creator and corporation, which leaves copyright law as something which has become its own means to an end.

“[C]opyright law has grown increasingly restrictive, to the point that it simultaneously flouts the most fundamental tenets of reasonableness and undermines its goal of encouraging creativity and human development.” (Tehranian 2011)

While this podcast explores what copyright is and how you can legally utilise samples in a copyright minded society, I pose the following questions: Does copyright ultimately stifle the creative individual?  If we can’t utilise songs from Disney films, will corporations then start to send out fines to those with Mickey Mouse tattooed on their arse? Will they then try to shut down tattoo parlours who facilitate this breach of copyright?


What is copyright?  Well, it’s the difference between this being legal [Shipwrecked Sample 1] and this being not [Shipwrecked Sample 2].  Although these clips sound really similar, the second one actually samples the start of Misirlou, covered by 2CELLOs [Misirlou Sample]

But wait a minute, can’t I use up to 30 seconds of the music, without worrying about copyright?

In short, no. That is not the case.

This myth actually stems from the fair use defence, which makes some exception for talking about the song in order to create understanding in an academic way.  That is to say, that my use of the sample to create a melodic baseline to compliment my work does not fall under fair use.

Then how can I sample and not worry about copyright?

The safest way to utilise samples in musical works, is to obtain permission from the owners, which is known as ‘sample clearance’.  If any sample you use can be identified in some way, then in order to legally utilise and distribute it, you have to have the sample clearance.  Obtaining this will often require some form of monetary exchange, whereby you pay the artist you are sampling for the right to utilise a part of their work in your new work.

What happens if you can’t get a sample clearance?

Sometimes when you try to get sample clearance, you can be left with no response – particularly if you are a small time artist.  If this is the case, then you are left with two options: scrap the idea, or release it anyway and deal with the repercussions later, if they arise.

If you don’t obtain the sample clearance, you are always going to be at some risk, but there are a few ways you can reduce this risk.  Things like making the sample unrecognisable, burying the sample amongst the rest of the mix, and not utilising the sample as a part of the ‘hook’ of the song can all contribute to this.  For example, if I hadn’t told you that the 2nd sample from Shipwrecked utilised an excerpt from Misirlou, you would not have known, thus making it a low risk sample.

At other times, you may just forge ahead with your high risk sample.  M.I.A. released her latest song, Ola- Foreign Friend, on the 18th of March, which heavily samples the opening theme from the Lion King.  Alongside this release, she posted a tweet (which has since been taken down), saying “pirates! throw that shit on dj sites WORLDWIDE no borders – b 4 Disney shut it down!” [Ola- Foreign Friend sample 1]

If established artists like M.I.A. are acknowledging that they are breaking copyright law, and calling upon the public to download and redistribute the material despite this, does that not make you wonder what copyright laws do to the creative individual.  Do these laws minimise the amount of creative content which is being churned out because half of the ideas are abandoned before they have begun as one realises it infringes upon something which already exists?  Does it really protect our work, or stop us from creating new and innovative works in the first place for fear of punishment as a result?  Does copyright ultimately stifle the creative individual? [Ola- Foreign Friend sample 2]


8 thoughts on “Music Sampling and Copyright

  1. Hi Elysse, (I’m sorry if I’ve spelt your name wrong)
    I really enjoyed your blog on music and copyright, however I believe that including more references to copyright infringements made by DJ’s creating remixes would have explained the “low risk sample” concept better. I liked that you included a transcript of your podcast too, very helpful 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was an amazing podcast! I felt your explanation of the concept of copyright and the ways you can risk breaking it and the ways you can avoid being caught were excellent. I also though the way you implemented musical excerpts to the podcast made it thoroughly engaging and educational, it definitely helped me understand it to a greater extent.

    I also think your final question was a great way to end it and left me to reflect on how copyright can stunt creativity.

    The only thing I would’ve changed is making the podcast longer haha, it was very well done and I wanted to hear more and see you go more in depth but I still think it was great the way it is 🙂


  3. “Sometimes when you try to get sample clearance, you can be left with no response – particularly if you are a small time artist.” This is such an important part of the discussion to me, because I can’t think of single copyright law that is useful to me as someone who is a beginner in the art world. The concept of copyright seems to have been created not as a way to protect artistry, but to wedge into a capitalist system of making big corporations and already-rich celebrities bigger and richer, while leaving the rest of us with nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elysse,
    This is a wonderful and thoroughly thought out, researched and sophisticated blog and podcast. I like how you dispelled the myth of the 30 second rule in music copyright. I enjoyed the current example of M.I.A.’s new song Ola. Popular music should be able to embrace influences in their material without the major corporate media companies to reap the benefits of 2 or 3 notes from the original song.

    Oh, and p.s. for others, here’s a link to Ola. You got me addicted to this song Elysse.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey!

    Your podcast was so well done! it raised a lot of interesting points; you were right, I did not realise that the first song was sampled in the beginning, which begs the question, if no one notices does it really matter? Also, thank you for introducing me to MIA, she’s a pretty awesome artist!


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