Reply To: Legality of Samples

,Foreign Concept

Hey guys,

Glad you enjoyed to the tutorial. I’m certainly no expert on the legal side of usage and clearance but it’s cropped up a few times in the past for me so this is merely my understanding of it.
First of all I think Gruff hit the nail on the head with it being a “grey area”.

By the letter of the law it is illegal to commercially sell a track that contains unlicensed samples, unless they adhere to what’s called a “fair use doctrine”, so effectively masked samples that your average listener wouldn’t be able to spot the original source.
So due to the subjective nature of what constitutes “masked”, that becomes your primary overriding grey area. Further to that, it’s not just straight sampling that it applies to, it’s reproduction as well. Prime example is the recent “Marvin Gaye’s family v Pharrell case”, where the former got a pay out of something like $7m for convincing a jury that the latter’s Blurred Lines song ripped off a Gaye track. I can’t hear it personally but there you go.

On a side note, in regards to the Genie point about the Invisible track that samples Gaye, they changed the law in the 80s I think, and it’s now something like – year of artists death + 70 years before it becomes public domain. So Survey will be waiting another 30 years before he can use that sample legally!

With respect to independent labels (talking dnb here), it really comes down to the prerogative of the label owner/distributor. I guess the main factors are
1) How obvious is the sample, not just in terms of the way it’s used but the actual sample itself. As a comparison think Ivy Lab – Twenty Questions, which pretty much features a whole sampled vocal but from a largely unknown singer compared to someone like Survey’s Marvin Gaye sample.
2) How big is the record likely to be. Most dnb releases have a limited reach in the grand scheme of things, and it’s pretty unlikely a major label is going to hear the track.
Which I guess ties into point 3) – Is a major label going to bother going after money from a small independent label that’s only sold a small amount of units. The legal fees alone are likely to be much higher then your average dnb track generates from sales.

I’ve never cleared a sample, and I’m fairly certain nothing on Critical has been cleared in the past. I know that one of the big dnb labels, (I won’t say their name but you might go there if you’re ill) now has to clear all samples because of their size, reputation and business model. Now (and this is purely subjective), I think that’s a big reason why their musical output went downhill massively about 5 years ago. All of their core artists who were making amazing sample based music now were forced to try and get the same vibe/quality without using samples. That’s why producer x (named after a camera filter type) went from all this wicked musical output, to really unimaginative big synth led riff tracks. Again, just my opinion, some people like that stuff!
Another example would be Sigma’s recent number one single (Nobody to love) which heavily sampled (almost to the point of bootlegging a kanye west track). I don’t know for sure but I’d imagine they either pre cleared the sample, or at some point handed over the sales revenue to Kanye’s label when they inevitably come knocking. (In fact I just looked it up and they gave it away free so no money would have been owed).

Which ties me into my last point. My impression is a lot of producers (and some labels) are veering towards the mind set of not caring about using samples even if they have to give up sales revenue.
Simply because the way the music industry is built now, particularly in dance music is that an artists living isn’t really made from record sales anymore due to low sales/no vinyl/sharing etc.., it’s made from live performance/DJing. So to use the Sigma example, albeit an exaggerated one, if they don’t make any money from the sales of their number one single, it’s no issue for them as the fact they have a large record means extra shows/big festivals equating in a much higher revenue stream.

Hope I haven’t rambled too much, clearly didn’t have much going on this evening


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