Myths & Misconceptions About Sampling Music DebunkedMyths & Misconceptions About Sampling Music Debunked


Myths & Misconceptions About Sampling Music Debunked

Myths about sampling are as old as the art of sampling itself. Especially in today's ever-changing music industry, it tends to be hard to differentiate facts from fiction, and truth from misconceptions. Let's debunk the biggest, oldest, and silliest myths and misinterpretations about sampling commercially released music once and for all.




January 12, 2024

Music Sampling Limits & Lengths

record store vinyl sampling myths

I can freely sample if I take less than two bars

There is no time limit or maximum length to avoid clearance issues. There's a wide variety of myths around this subject: two bars, six seconds, short loops, one-shots… All of these are false. Simply put: there's no safe limit to sample legally without clearance. Even a micro-chop or one-shot can get you in trouble. A simple solution: get a license. Or go for unlimited sample clearances so you can skip licensing fees altogether.

If I change 30% of a copyrighted work, it's no longer infringement and I can use it however I want

As far as myths go, this is a big one. The myth goes that as long as you change 30% of a copyrighted work—whether that's music, video, text, or any other medium—it's no longer infringement. That's simply not the case. Just like the time limits, the '30 Percent Rule' in copyright law is nothing but a myth.

Seventy years after the artist's death, I can legally sample the music

That's not quite right. First, you have to remember that there are a whole bunch of copyrights that make up a published record. There is copyright in the sound recording (the master) and copyright in the musical work (the composition and/or the lyrics of the actual song). Oh, and then there are also performers' rights. As we have said these rights can differ worldwide, so be really careful. If in doubt, seek a license.

The following covers UK and European Union sound recording and publishing rights, subject to UK and EU law (essentially tracks made by local musicians in those countries). But as we have said, do check performers' rights as well.

Musical works (music and/or lyrics)

The basic position for works made after 1 August 1989 is that copyright protection lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies. Or when there is more than one author, 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last known author dies. Different rules apply if the author(s) is or are unknown: in that case, the copyright ends 70 years from the end of the calendar year the music was made.

So even in the case of, say, James Brown's passing in 2006, that doesn't mean you can sample the music seventy years later. You still have to find out who the authors behind the song you want to sample are and if necessary, license from them.

Sound recordings (the master)

Basically, copyright protection lasts for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the music is made. But if during that period it's legally published, played, or communicated to the public, it lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first released.

Also note there are different (longer) periods in place in other regions, particularly where the recordings/compositions are US recordings/compositions.

Sample Clearance & Copyright Laws

music sampling clearance myths misconceptions

I'm a small artist; rightsholders will never find me

Even if you see yourself as a small-time bedroom producer now—you never know when a song becomes bigger or even a hit, how your career is going to evolve, or when or how your music potentially finds its way to the original rightsholders.

Or vice versa, with Content ID and audio fingerprinting these days tracking down bits and pieces more easily. Best believe those systems don't only skim major artists with mainstream appeal…  Also, the mindset of "they can't find me" is for serious producers, quite frankly, wrong. If you're aiming to become a professional or semi-professional producer: should you not make sure to own the music you make, as well as respect other creators' copyrights?

I'm not big enough of an artist to get sued. When I'm sued, then at least I've made it and can cover the costs.

Firstly, it's not just about getting sued or not. It's also about potential takedowns and making the most of your music. Not completely owning your music can severely hinder your career in terms of (major) placements, sync placements, and not being able to upload or keep your song up regardless of advanced content ID systems.

At the end of the day: owning your masters in full is key as a music producer. That’s going to be even more important in the (near) future.

Secondly, lawsuits are happening all the time. Not just the ones you read about in the news. Ask any seasoned producer about clearance issues and most will likely have a story or two to tell…

Lastly, getting sued is by no means a guarantee that you’ve "made it." Many record labels have people and systems in place to track down uncleared samples, also targeting semi-big artists.

It's always super difficult and/or very expensive to clear a sample

That is often the case although clearing a sample isn't always very expensive or insanely complex. That all depends on the artist, record label, publisher, and/or other rightsholders involved. It also depends on how much time and effort you want to put into this process, which tends to be complex and lengthy. Particularly where you have to deal with many different rightsholders. Sample clearance is basically a free-for-all where rightsholders can negotiate however they want.

So you never know upfront what the process will be like. You can't even be sure if you will manage to track down all of the rightsholders—or if they are willing to clear a sample in the first place. Also, you normally have to produce the proposed new track first, so the rightsholders have something to hear, approve (or deny), and negotiate over.

What Tracklib offers is the certainty of knowing upfront you can clear the rights and at what price. Tracklib offers upfront licensing fees, clear price categories, and no fine print or hidden costs. On top of that, the assurance that you're using music that's completely allowed to be sampled saves you a lot of hassle and headaches. You will also know, upfront, what you can and can't do with your new song. Tracklib liberates your creativity simply and quickly.

Sampling laws only apply to music. I can sample audio from movies, videos, and other media without clearance

Sampling is about any recordings, not just music. So even when sampling movie dialogues, TikTok videos, or YouTube uploads, copyright laws come into play. This gets even more complicated when there's music playing in the background of, say, a sampled movie dialogue. For example, that was the case when Drake and Noah '40' Shebib sampled a monologue with a barely audible R. Kelly song playing in the background. They still had to credit that song on Certified Lover Boy's "TSU."

I don't need to clear interpolations

If you think that's the case, we advise reading our guide Sample Clearance Demystified: How to Clear a Sample. That explains the differences and relations between clearing a sample of an actual sound recording (master rights level) with that of a musical work (publishing rights level).

By interpolating you use an underlying musical work so that still needs to be cleared. As a general rule, you would only need to clear the publishing. But there can be issues if you interpolate a vocal if it's too similar to the original performer. The original performer might object to that in view of the goodwill in their voice or style—just ask Rick Astley after rapper Yung Gravy impersonated Astley's voice in "Betty (Get Money)"...

Also, remember an interpolation is not a cover version so interpolations do need clearance.

I can't be sued for samples on a free release

The need to clear samples doesn't run parallel to revenue made. It's still unlawful to copy and release a song for free using an uncleared sample. You can be sued, even if you didn't make a penny.

I just want to share it online, I don't mind if original rightsholders get all the royalties so I don't need to license it.

Just like how you need to clear samples for a free release, you also need to clear samples if you want to upload something online to share what you've produced.

Music Sampling Rules & Origins

vinyl records sampling clearance myths misconceptions

Sampling is easy and inferior to playing an instrument

It's like we've written in our Music Sampling: A Beginner's Guide feature: "Sampling can be as original, intricate, and distinctive as you want it to be." Ask anyone who claims sampling is easy to recreate a J Dilla rhythm... And is complex micro-chopping really inferior if we compare it with an easy guitar riff?

For both sampling music and playing instruments, it all comes down to what you do with the methods at hand and how you use your tool(s) of choice. Don't let anyone ever dismiss or downplay the art of sampling.

Using samples or loops is cheating

See the point above. Using tools and techniques as a means to create something new is never cheating. That is, as long as you value originality and skill and don't see it as an easy way of producing music.

If I manipulate the sound enough for it not to be found, it's safe to sample

After decades of fast-paced technological advancements (content ID systems, audio fingerprinting, and artificial intelligence, to name just a few), nothing is safe from being found. If not now, then who knows later.

Read our recent article on how artificial intelligence can now identify samples less than a second long. That shows today's fast developments and a glimpse into the future.

YouTube & Content ID

youtube content id samples myths can i be found

If a sample isn't flagged by YouTube's Content ID, I'm safe

Nope, think again. Content ID is an automated audio fingerprinting system to help rightsholders protect, identify, and manage their copyright-protected content. That does not mean that it's copyright-free if something doesn't get identified.

All music is protected—whether or not systems like Content ID recognize it (yet), is another story. With YouTube investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and improve Content ID, it's likely that the system only becomes better and better from here.

If there aren't any music credits below a YouTube video, that means I can sample the music

We can't express enough that all music is copyright-protected. Checking music credits on YouTube or any other platform isn't sufficient to stay safe from copyright infringement. There's always someone with master rights and publishing rights.

Alternatively, what if new representatives, a transfer of ownership, or new licenses change the case of a protected song? For instance, that happened to J Dilla, who was sued in 2020 for sampling 10cc's "The Worst Band In The World" on "Workinonit," after a new company entered into an exclusive administration agreement with the song's longtime owner. Fourteen years after Donuts was released!

If music is obscure enough and not available on YouTube, it's safe to sample

See our points above. In times of rapid-paced technological developments, there's no music that "can't be found" or is "obscure enough."

However, sampling more obscure records like rare European prog-rock or rare grooves from anywhere in the world is more popular than ever. So check out the more obscure side of Tracklib. That's what we're here for. Here's a start: