How Copyright Works: How Sampling is Different from Stealing Berklee Online In this video, we’ll discuss sampling, what it means, how people sample, what rights the person who samples has, what rights the person who has been sampled has, and how it works together. A sample is copying from a sound recording.
So again, think of what a sound recording is. It’s often a song you recognize with melody, harmony, lyrics, and all that, but it’s also the collection of sounds around that, the way that your composition sounds different than some other version of that song. So, when you sample from a sound recording, you are generally taking two copyrights.
You’re taking the copyright in the sound recording of course, but within that sound recording is someone’s composition. Ideally and realistically, you need permission from both the songwriter and the publisher of that song, the composition need that permission, and you need the permission of the record label.
Sampling is really based on an old idea of taking from something that previously existed and it really often honoring it and saying, “I want to use it, but I want to surround it, I want to put it into my song.” With hip hop, it became pretty common. People would sample, they would not ask for permission, it was considered a good tradition. But eventually,
some people got upset about that and they decided, they looked at their rights they have and they do have the right to say, you think you own the composition, okay, you have the right to exclude others from using it, and here’s someone’s using your composition. If you own the sound recording and the composition, they’re violating you in two ways. They’re taking your composition and they’re taking your sound recording and just inserting it into their song. Eventually, there were some lawsuits.
One of the most famous was by Gilbert O’Sullivan, the songwriter, recording artist from the United Kingdom. He had a song called Alone Again Naturally. It was a sad song, had a piano in it prominently, and it was about the death of his parents. Is a touching song and it’s very popular. Now hip hop artist named Biz Markie comes along and likes the underlying beat, the underlying music. It’s a small segment, it’s in terms of music, the composition was not very original, what he took was the accompanying piano chords.
One chord, a three, a two and a five, kind of normal chords. As a composition, that’s kind of simple, it’s not too original. But he took not only that, but he took the sound recording, the exact sound of that piano player and any accompanying instruments. He took that, inserted into his song and wrapped over, it told a much different story.
So the problem comes from taking the composition without permission, and taking the sound recording without permission and then using them. Again, this hadn’t been worked out in a business method yet, no one had tested to say, let’s sue these people who are sampling our songs, and they had to be a first and this really was it. It went into the court and the judge is named as Judge Kevin Duffy, he did something that was pretty unexpected. He started out by saying,
Thou shalt not steal.” He’s been an admonition from the beginning of time but it also should apply to the music business, and because part of the defense of Biz Markie’s lawyers was to say, “Well, this is standard practice in the music industry. ” Which in a way the tradition was in the culture was saying, “It’s sampling is cool, let’s do it”. But they need to be respected for law, the copyright-protected those four chords repeated, and it protected the sound recording of those four chords, and
Biz Markie failed to ask for either. The judge wants to make it a point of saying, “No, you need to ask for permission, you can’t just steal. There was no respect for no idea saying hey, this is a good tradition culture should be respected. This is how we evolve, it wasn’t that.” That did crash a lot of people and stop a lot of people from sampling.
So, sampling is taking two copyrights. It’s taking copyright in the sound recording and within that sound recording is another copyright which is the copyright of the composition. Sampling is taking both copyrights. Taking that out and using it in new work.
How Copyright Works: How Sampling is Different from Stealing Berklee Online