All musicians who have worked with music on a computer have at some point encountered the legal issue surrounding the use of samples. Made possible by music technology, it is a copyright paradox that, on the one hand, one wants to protect expensive productions from abuse, but at the same time one wants a diverse artistic freedom. A Google search for sampling is so misleading that Rumkraft has created a three-part article series that sheds light on the legal issues. The idea is that we will all become wiser on the subject so that we can better take a stand on it.


Copyright is a complicated quantity that not even the average lawyer can relate to. These are some relatively square rules that collide with a world of art and literature. And when not even cultural historians or debaters can define art – how should lawyers look?


The purpose of copyright

It all started, of course, with an optimistic idea that it would be super smart to protect the works of creative people from copying. That way, they would be able to make a living from their art or literature, and maintain an incentive to continue. At the same time, it benefits consumers and society in terms of entertainment and culture, respectively. Smart, right?

But before we all clap our hands too high, there is, of course, a downside as well. When you protect a work against copying or imitation, you also cut off future, creative zealots from making similar “creations”, as it is called in legal parlance. And suddenly we have to assess whether the artist has just been inspired by an “author”, or whether he has imitated the work. We take a closer look at this in PART 2 of this series of articles.


Copyright and sampling

So where does sampling come into the picture? Yes, at some point back in the 1940s, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry began experimenting with sound recordings – so-called sound collages with everything from music to machine noise. On Wikipedia it is defined as ” the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece “.


But we probably know it best from the hip-hop culture that sprouted in the late 1970s. The devices became easier to use, cheaper to buy and provided more options than traditional equipment. For example, underground club DJs could use the soundtrack from well-known TV commercials to sudden surprises in the middle of a well-known disco number. The audience was amazed. A new art form was born. We had seen it with visual art collages, but not really with sound!

And just as expected, the original authors began to see a financial incentive to ban the use of samples. If sample artists could make money using samples, they would have to pay at box 1. Since then, the otherwise thriving recycling culture has shrunk more and more as a result of higher and higher license fees for using samples. Today, the licensees, including in particular the record and production companies, are by far the strongest negotiating party when it comes to giving permission for the use of samples. As an electronic musician, you test a lot of samples before the product is ready for release – and then you realize that you have to collect permits.

And you have nothing to negotiate with (!)


Outdated legislation and sampling today

The convention that protects audio recordings from copying dates back to 1971 – a time when technology allowed no more than “reverse”, “loop”, “fixed”, etc. Back then it was relatively easy to recognize the original music track if one had ” borrowed ”a sound stump. But the wording of the convention left a small gap for interpretation. In PART 3, we look at how the different countries have interpreted this, and not least how recent developments can help to open the floodgates for sampling and the “artistic freedom”.



To summarize the two issues mentioned, there is firstly a legal interpretation of the boundary between inspiration and imitation. We will discuss this in PART 2 .

But there is also a completely different section that deals with the direct digital use of sound clips, which of course will first be mentioned in PART 3 – so hang on!


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