Music Rights: How To Sample Legally | Octiive (2023)

Music rights are the beating heart of the music industry because they protect our art, and if you use samples, even more so. So many music styles use sampling today that the art is impossible to ignore. Artists sample music not just in hip hop and EDM, but also rock, ska, jazz, reggae, and still other genres. In fact, the practice of sampling goes all the way back to the 1940s, eighty years ago.

But how many artists have obtained the music rights? How many artists could be sued? It’s easy to imagine that more samples have been illegally used than otherwise.

This guide on music rights and how to sample legally will help you stay safe rather than sorry.

Music rights depend mostly on getting permission when you sample music. You may have heard that you can legally sample a bit of music shorter than 8 seconds. Or 6 seconds. Or 6 bars…

None of that is true. The truth is that there’s no “fair use” rule saying you can legally sample a little bit of someone else’s music. And what if it’s just some amateur’s little bit, somebody nobody knows and may never know? That person still owns the copyright because all art is automagically copyrighted as soon as it’s made. And we can feel happy about that. It protects us, too.

The upshot of all this is that the best way to sample music legally is to get permission. In many cases, that means permission from more than one person. Let’s look at that.

Music Rights: How To Sample Legally | Octiive (1)

How to Sample Music with Permission

The first thing you’ll need to know is who owns the music rights to what you’re sampling. You need two permissions, though, not one.

You need to get permission to sample the music from:

  • The owner of the recording’s copyright (usually a record label)
  • The owner of the song’s copyright (usually the songwriter or the publisher)

In order to find these people, you’ll at least need to know the name of the artist and the song. Modern tech makes that super easy in most cases. You can use Apple’s Siri, Android’s Google Now, or Windows 10’s Cortana to ask, “what’s this song?” and get a straight answer. There’s also the Shazam app on iOS or Android. Heck, you can even try humming or playing a few bars.

Once you know the song, it’s a simple matter of finding out who owns the music rights.

(Video) How To Sample Legally for FREE | Citizen DJ

Luckily, these people want you to find them easily, so there are plenty of online resources. Go straight to performing rights organizations and look the song up. You can do this at BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, Harry Fox, or SOCAN if you happen to be in Canada.

The label, publisher or songwriter will probably want to know a few things. They’ll probably want to hear the sample you want to use and how you intend to use it. They may ask to hear the song you’re going to use the sample in. That’s more cool than it is a hassle — because who knows, it just might lead to a label’s interest in your music.

They don’t have to give you permission, either, so they might ask you to change a thing or two about your song. So how seriously do you really want this sample, right? But anyhow, if the owner of the recording and the owner of the song give you permission, they also may ask for a piece of your humble earnings.

Let’s talk about that.

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Music Rights: How To Sample Legally | Octiive (2)

How Much Will You Need to Pay for the Sample?

Let’s assume you found the owner of the song and the recording and they’ve given you permission. What might they charge you to use that sample?

If it’s an indie label, just a little mom-and-pop record business operating in an apartment somewhere, maybe nothing. They might appreciate you spreading a little of their music around. They’ll probably ask for a mention somewhere, a little ‘thank you’ in the Spotify notes, maybe.

(Video) How Copyright Works: How Sampling is Different from Stealing | Berklee Online

If it’s a very well-known song on a major label, though, they’re going to ask for money.

Major publishers almost always ask for a money advance for music rights. That’s money you need to pay before you make any money on your own track. They’ll ask for hundreds and often thousands of dollars.

That’s not even all. You’re going to have to pay a “rollover,” too. That means once your music sells a certain amount, you owe them a certain amount.

Big publishers will also almost always ask for a portion of the royalties you make with the song. That’s where it really bites. How big a bite? Some artists have to pay 50% of all the recording royalties just to use a sample which may be a few seconds long.

These three amounts all vary widely, though. In order to pay the least possible amount, use as short a sample as you can. Use it as few times as you can. This puts you in a good bargaining position for two reasons:

  • The sampled music isn’t heard very much, so there’s less to pay for.
  • Your song doesn’t depend on the sample, so you can take it out and walk away.

It’s plain to see that none of the above is very attractive to independent musicians trying to make a way for themselves. That’s why the rest of this how-to will talk about how to sample music safely (without permission).

Music Rights: How To Sample Legally | Octiive (3)

How to Sample Music as Safely as Possible

Disclaimer: You should not use samples without the permission of copyright holders. It puts you in legal danger and can be artistically dishonest.

That said, there are ways to sample music which can be justified, so let’s look at those.

Earlier we talked about how there’s no fair-use rule to using samples without permission. That’s true — but there is a fair-use legal defense. The fair-use legal defense is exactly that: a defense you’d need to use in court after you get sued. You shouldn’t bank on it if you never want to go to court.

(Video) Legally Sample Music (The Easy Way) | Don't Release Your Music Without Clearing Your Samples

But let’s say you’re not afraid of a courtroom. What is the fair-use defense? It’s a big, general, grey area in law that goes along with free speech in the United States. It says you can use copyrighted material for parody, to comment on it, or to criticize it. Parody means that Weird Al Yankovic doesn’t need to ask permission to record “Eat It” as a joke about MJ’s “Beat It.” Note that Al always asks anyway, both to be cool to artists and to keep his royalties. Comment and criticism means that Billboard and Pitchfork can republish sections of a song when talking about whether a song is good or bad.

Judges use four main rules to decide what’s fair use:

1.) The purpose and “character” of your use (why and how is it used?)

Has the sample you have taken been changed by adding new expression or meaning?

Was value added to the original by creating new information, a new look, new insights?

2.) The nature of the copyrighted work

You get to copy from factual stuff like newspapers, science books and biographies than from art. You also want to copy from published stuff, not unpublished stuff, because artists get to control the first public appearance of their work.

3.) The length of the sample

The shorter the sample, the more likely you’ll get away with it … Unless the sample is really important to the song, like the three-second bass line Vanilla Ice used in “Ice, Ice Baby” from Queen and Bowie, who sued him with flying colors.

4.) The effect on the profits

If your use of the sample could potentially hurt the profits of the original artist, you can expect to lose the lawsuit.

But courtrooms are ugly, and who can afford a lawyer, anyhow? So let’s look at what else you can you do besides getting permission.

(Video) How Do Independent Artists Clear Samples?

Music Rights: How To Sample Legally | Octiive (4)

How to Sample Music Legally Without Permission

If you don’t get permission, you’re always taking a risk. It’s never legal.

But if you only sell your music offline and don’t make many copies, the risk of getting caught is very slim. Check it out, though: if it’s a really good song and it takes off, you could regret not getting permission sooner. (And owners of the music rights will probably ask for more, now that the track is selling). You can more safely use samples by following these rules:

  • Use a mostly unknown sample.
  • Don’t make the sample a big part of your song.
  • Don’t use the title or the lyrics of the song you’re sampling in your own.

Or, use a music sample without permission by making it mostly or completely your own.

  • Re-record the sample yourself!

If it’s your recording, you own the recording rights (but not the songwriting).

  • Make the sample parody or criticism.

If you make it funny or critical (trash-talking) you don’t need permission.

  • Alter the sample with effects until it’s something totally new.

If your sample is unrecognizable from the original, you’re legal.

  • Use a legally clear sample!

Tracklib has a whole database of free samples you don’t need to pay for to use.

So with all these options, today’s artists shouldn’t have to worry about how to sample legally. But the artist in the most danger is the artist who knows the least. As of now, that’s not you.

(Video) THIS Makes PRODUCERS Liable | How To Sample Music Legally | Entertainment Attorney Explains

What If I Don’t Care About Sampling Music Legally?

Okay, more people sample illegally today than at any other time in history. We can tell because artists are making more music today than at any other time in history. So probably your illegal samples will fly under the radar, right?

But what if they don’t? Isn’t the whole point of starting in music to reach larger and larger audiences? What if one day and after several albums, you make it big, then some publisher recognizes your tiny theft? Or worse, what if you finally get a song with millions of listens and it looks like you’re going to be famous — but have to take it down?

The best way to sample music is to sample legally. Here’s hoping we’ve helped you know how.


Music Rights: How To Sample Legally | Octiive? ›

If someone wants to sample a sound recording, he or she must obtain the permission from both the copyright owner of the song (the music publisher(s)) and the copyright owner of the particular recording of that song (the record label) to avoid copyright infringement.

How do you legally sample copyrighted music? ›

Sample Clearance
  1. Find the Music Publisher. In order to get these sample clearances, you will first need to find the copyright owners of the song and master recording. ...
  2. Find the Master Recording Owner. ...
  3. Recreate the Music Sample. ...
  4. Seek Copyright Owners who are Happy to Clear Samples. ...
  5. Contact the Artist Directly.

How to sample a song without getting sued? ›

How To Use Samples In Your Tracks Without Getting Sued
  1. Creative Commons. Creative Commons is a licensing organisation that fosters the fair use of artistic work for other artists to use. ...
  2. Search The Public Domain. ...
  3. Flip Your Sample and Make It Unrecognisable. ...
  4. Use Sample Sites And Royalty-Free Sample Packs. ...
  5. Clear Your Sample.
Jan 11, 2022

What are the legalities of sampling music? ›

Sampling without permission can breach the copyright of the original sound recording, of the composition and lyrics, and of the performances, such as a rhythm or guitar riff. The moral rights of the original artist may also be breached if they are not credited or object to the sampling.

What is the legal length of a music sample? ›

Guidelines. Copyrighted, unlicensed music samples must be short in comparison to the original song. As a rule of thumb, samples should not exceed 30 seconds or 10% of the length of the original song, whichever is shorter. Samples must be of reduced quality from the original.

How much of a song can I sample legally? ›

You CANNOT sample music without permission, no matter how short or long the sample is. Copyright is copyright. And if the sample is recognizable (hell, even if it isn't recognizable), you're using another person's intellectual property in order to construct or enhance your own.

How do samples get cleared? ›

Artists can expect to need at least two separate licenses when trying to clear a sample: the publishing and the master. This means that artists need to have a contract for a song's words, music, and melody—all of which are covered by the publishing license—and also one for the specific recording being sampled.

How much of a song can you sample without getting in trouble? ›

The "15 Second" or "8 Bar" Rule

The reality is that there is no legal protection in copyright law for these types of use. If you use a piece of a composition or sound recording that is copyrighted, you will need a license.

What happens if you sample a song without permission? ›

The process of obtaining permission from the owners of the sampled music is referred to as "sample clearance." Failure to obtain the proper permission could lead to serious consequences, including lawsuits for money damages or the inability to distribute your music to the public.

Can I sell a beat with a sample? ›

Using unlicensed samples in their beats can result in copyright lawsuits. Additionally, beat producers should be careful about how they select and integrate samples into their beats to avoid infringing on the rights of others.

What songs can I sample for free? ›

Best websites for free music samples in 2023
  • Looperman.
  • Production Music Live.
  • W.A. Production.
  • NASA Audio Collection.
  • Freesound.
  • SampleSwap.
  • Cymatics.
  • SampleSound.
Feb 16, 2023

What must an artist acquire before being able to use a sample? ›

For a sample, you'll need to acquire both the master recording and underlying music license.

What is the difference between copyright and sampling? ›

Sound recording

Copyright in a sound recording is the exclusive right to control the reproduction of the whole or substantial part of the recording either in its original form or in any form recognizably derived from the original. Music sampling typically entails reproduction of a substantial part of a prior recording.

How much does it cost to clear a sample? ›

In general, though, you can expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for sample clearance. Of course, the best way to avoid costly surprises is to plan and budget for sample clearance from the get-go.

Can you sue someone for sampling your song? ›

If you plan to commercially release your music, you probably will need to get written permission from the copyright owners of any music that you are sampling. Otherwise, you could be sued for copyright infringement and prevented from distributing your music.

Do producers have to clear samples? ›

This is legal because copyright law determines infringement by copying it, but not if an artist imitates it. Choosing not to clear a sample before the song is released is a major risk and not recommended.

Who gets paid when a song is sampled? ›

Country, R&B, hip-hop and pop songs typically have more than one writer. A song that incorporates a sample will typically give credit and pay royalties to songwriters of the song being sampled.

What happens if you use uncleared samples? ›

In the worst case, a lawsuit may even be filed and this can be expensive. Furthermore, your distributor is obliged to remove the release from the stores if you have used uncleared samples. If you want to be on the safe side, it is worthwhile to get the rights to the samples.

Who clears samples for artists? ›

Contact the publisher(s)

The person you want to be in touch with is the publisher. That's the person in charge of copyrights. If you know the label in charge of the song you're sampling, they can also help you to find the publisher.

Do samples pay royalties? ›

Sample deals from major labels will usually have an advance which is recoupable against royalties. With some companies, you might be able to negotiate a buy-out, or one-time fee for the use of the sample. Then, no further royalties or payments are required.”

Do producers pay for samples? ›

It really depends on the samples if a producer has to pay for samples. Getting samples from a store will obviously require you to pay for samples. If you are sampling from released track you will need to get clearance for the samples. This means you need permission from the original owner.

How long of a music clip is fair use? ›

Fair Use Length Guidelines
Printed Material
For Presentation or ProjectUp to 10% or 3 minutes, whichever is shorter
Classroom ListeningAllowed for educational purposes.
For Presentation or ProjectUp to 10% or 30 seconds, whichever is shorter.
20 more rows

Can I resell a beat I bought? ›

In the case of buying the exclusive rights to a beat that was previously (non-exclusively) licensed to other artists, the artist that purchased the exclusive rights is typically the last person to purchase it. After a beat is sold exclusively, the producer is no longer allowed to sell or license the beat to others.

Can I use someone else's beat for my song? ›

While in the music industry you're not technically supposed to use other people's music on your own project without a license, in the hip hop and rap genre, this is common practice. Furthermore, a lot of hip hop producers encourage it.

What happens if you use a sold beat? ›

It won't affect you! An exclusive sale of a beat you've previously licensed non-exclusively will not affect you in any way. The exclusive buyer is fully aware of the artists that licensed the beat before him.

Do people pay to sample songs? ›

Anytime an outside party wants to use any part of an original song that they do not own, they have to request permission from all owners of the master and the owner of the composition. As far as the payments, the license fee must be paid by the party requesting to use the sample on each side of the copyrights.

Can I sample lyrics without copyright? ›

Sampling without permission usually violates two rights – copyright in the sound recording (owned by an artist or record company) and copyright in the song itself (owned by the songwriter or music publishing company).

What song samples get money? ›

"Get Money," whose instrumental is fundamentally a sample of R&B singer Sylvia Striplin's 1981 song "You Can't Turn Me Away," was produced by EZ Elpee, rapped by the Notorious B.I.G. and Lil' Kim, and received a music video.

Can an independent artist sample? ›

If you plan to use samples of other artists' work in your musical compositions, you may need to get permission in order to avoid legal trouble. Unfortunately, getting permission is not always easy. Here are some ways an independent artist can obtain sample clearance.

How does licensing samples work? ›

This means that a party wishing to “sample” or otherwise incorporate another's existing material must obtain permission from both of the piece's copyright owners. This means that a musician must enter into a licensing agreement with each owner in order to legitimately utilize a “sample.”

What is it called when an artist uses another artist song? ›

A cover song is a new recording or performance of a song by an artist other than the original composer or performer(s). A cover song is colloquially known as a cover version or cover.

Is sampling just copying? ›

Sampling can be a form of plagiarism, but it is not always. Sampling (using parts, bits, or portions of prior recordings to be incorporated into a new song) without permission is a violation of United States copyright law. With permission, however, sampling is not considered plagiarism.

Why is sampling illegal? ›

Indeed, an artist who samples without permission infringes on both the copyright in the sound recording and the copyright in the composition. Specifically, this duality of infringement is due to the fact that a track with samples from pre-existing sound recordings is considered a derivative work.

Is sampling art or theft? ›

Besides the legal factors, sampling is viewed by some outside of the music industry as stealing or a production quality that isn't creative. But sampling is simply not stealing. If used in the incorrect way, at worst, it's copyright infringement, which is implicitly different than theft.

Why are samples so expensive? ›

Sample rooms are usually smaller (on average 1 cutter and 2-3 sample sewers) and therefore can only accommodate a limited capacity so these costs has to be covered by the number of samples they make in a day. When you add all the above reasons, the hourly rate becomes quite high and therefore the cost of samples.

Should I charge for a sample? ›

Charging for sample edits can be a good strategy if you are getting lots of enquiries and don't have time to be doing lots of free samples. As with anything when running your own business, just do what suits you. And then, if you want to change your mind, you are free to do so.

Is it copyright if you sample a song? ›

Indeed, an artist who samples without permission infringes on both the copyright in the sound recording and the copyright in the composition. Specifically, this duality of infringement is due to the fact that a track with samples from pre-existing sound recordings is considered a derivative work.

How do I get permission to record a copyrighted song? ›

You need to go straight to the music publisher or composer for their permission. You then submit a formal request and get quoted a licensing fee to use the song. Even if they do agree to allow you to release a video, the fees can be quite high.

Are there any consequences for sampling? ›

Consequences of sampling Bias Introduction Bias also referred to as partiality or unfairness does occur in sampling too. It is a systematic error that occurs during selection of a representative sample from a population. Sampling bias can also be known as ascertainment bias or systemic bias.

How do I ask for permission to use copyrighted material? ›

One way to make sure your intended use of a copyrighted work is lawful is to obtain permission or a license from the copyright owner. Contact a copyright owner or author as far as pos- sible in advance of when you want to use the material specified in your permissions request.

Can I use a song without permission if not copyrighted? ›

Here are some important copyright principles to keep in mind. Generally, to use the sound recordings or musical works of another artist, you must: Use work that is already in the public domain. Get permission from the copyright holder directly, or license the work according to the terms set by the licensing contract.

Can I record a cover song and sell it? ›

If you want to record and release your own cover version of someone else's song, then you'll need a “mechanical license” for your cover song. A mechanical license is the right to make copies of the song's musical structure such as the lyrics and notes, which is called the musical composition.


1. How To Sample A Famous Song Legally | Music Artist Tips from an Entertainment Attorney
(Top Music Attorney)
2. How To Get Samples Cleared For Your Music | Recreating Songs That Already Exist
(Top Music Attorney)
3. How to Legally Use Samples In Your Music (Lawyer Responds)
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4. How to LEGALLY Sample Famous Artists! (Music Publishing)
(Jabari (Boost Collective))
5. How to Legally Release a Cover Song, Remix, or use Samples
(Sam Smyers)
6. Is It Okay to use Samples? (Copyright Explained)
(Show Your Genius // Adriel Rivera)


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