Music Sampling is the act of incorporating bits of someone else’s musical score or sound recording into your own music. Music Sampling becomes risky business when it’s done without proper authorization and licenses. To further complicate things, musicians and composers often view sampling as a logical progression in the music composition process; and often ignore the formalities and laws that regulate sampling.
Here are a few basic Do’s and Don’ts of music sampling.
- IT’S OK TO: sample from the song White Christmas (original score) because it in the public domain.
- IT’S NOT OK: to sample from Frank Sinatra’s sound recordings of the song White Christmas because these are not in the public domain.
- IT’S NOT OK: to sample ‘arrangement elements’ of Frank Sinatra’s sound recordings of the song White Christmas because the sound recordings are not in the public domain.
The common theme of these three examples is whether or not the sampled music is in the public domain. The public domain is the land of ‘free public property’ and music that is in the public domain is free for the taking, sampling, using, reproducing, or distributing.
What music is in the public domain? Any musical score that was published in the US before 1923 is in the public domain, due to expiration of copyright. There are also newer musical scores in the public domain too, but a case by case analysis needs to be done on scores published in 1923 or later to determine if they are in the public domain and free for sampling. A significant, but easily overlooked detail, is that almost all sound recordings are ‘new enough’ to still be under copyright protection (this includes bit and pieces of the sound recording as well as arrangement elements) and hence are not necessarily free for sampling.
BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.
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