I’ve been digging through my old gmails trying to figure out which questions I’ve been asked the most over the years. Questions about if, when and how to clear samples are definitely a subject that a lot of people are curious about.
If you ever wondered if you had to clear a sample, when you have to clear a sample or how you actually clear a sample, read on…
The first thing we need to clarify is that in the eyes of the court, there are two types of “sampling”.
Type 1: Sampling – Taking another piece of music (aka the master recording) and incorporating it into your own music.
Type 2: Interpolation – Replaying a part of another piece of music (aka the composition) and incorporating it into your own music.
Depending on which of the above you do, there will be different factors to consider when you clear a sample. There are different factors, because there are two different forms of music copyrights.
Type 1: Copyright for the master recording (The original recorded music)
If you sample a master recording, you will need to get clearance from the record label for the rights to use the master recording AND clearance from the publishers of the composition.
If you interpolate a sample, you no longer need to get clearance for the rights to use the master recording, but you will still need to get clearance from the publishers.
Ok… now that we have the basics down. We need to talk about when you should actually be clearing samples. Note: I Jim Bond am not a lawyer, so this does not constitute legal advice, but I’ve been around the sample clearance block a few times so I’m speaking from experience & common sense observations.
- A high profile rapper like 50 Cent puts out “mixtapes” for free which contains tons of samples. 100’s of thousands of people download them for promotional purposes. He doesn’t clear the samples on these mixtapes. As far as I know, he’s never been sued for it.
- If you head over to best buy and take a look at the dusty cd racks, there will be a bunch of CD”s which contain uncleared samples.
- This may be a bit of a stretch, but I had a long conversation with a certain executive who worked very closely on the creation of a certain album released in the late 90’s. This exec informed me that they never cleared a few of the samples on this album which had multi platinum sales.
So… if after all of this you have decided that you are going to try to clear your sample, the next step is figuring out how to clear the sample. Clearing samples can be a very difficult process. The good news is that there are agencies that will handle this process for you for a fee. The bad news may be the #1 thing stopping you from clearing a sample…
Sample clearance houses charge a few hundred dollars just to find out how much it will cost you to clear a sample… So you may have to pay $400, only to find out the artist you sampled will not even allow you to use your sample. If you ever wondered whether or not you should clear the beats on your beat cd… there is your answer…
It is possible to bear down and do the research yourself. I know of producers & artists who have done this. Although it can be difficult/near impossible to do, if you approach the creator of the track as opposed to a big clearance house, you may end up paying & giving up less in the long run. At the end of the day, it does not make sense to pursue this unless you have a song that you really think may make waves… or you have a bunch of money to spend… or you are Sherlock Holmes…
I think the facts & evidence presented here show that clearing samples is pretty much unnecessary unless you are really planning to have a huge hit record or sell a lot of units. That being said, making any money off of a sample or using it as promotional material IS ILLEGAL… But so is jay walking, watching unauthorized clips on youtube & downloading movies & mp3’s online… You make the call!