Can I release a track with unauthorized sampling on it?
Published Jun 26, 2011I'm currently in the process of producing a few beats for a hip-hop album I'm working on. As the backbone for one of my beats, I sample a three-second horn line from a Quincy Jones song. I'm wondering ― will this limit my ability to release this track on a record? I've heard a lot of sampling on underground hip-hop artists' albums, and I imagine that it's not explicitly authorized in each case, but I'm not really sure how much leeway there is for stuff like that.
According to both copyright law and industry convention, you need permission to use someone else's copyrighted work in your track, even if it's only three seconds. You'll probably have to pay for this permission, and as you can imagine, the price goes up according to the prominence of the artist and the chunk that you're using. A Quincy Jones sample could be pretty pricey. To find out how much it costs, you need to contact the entity (probably a record label) that controls the copyright in the original piece of music. If you don't have clear permission for your samples, a record label might be reluctant to take it on, since they could end up in the legal soup. You'll also find that you'll never be able to license the music to TV shows or commercials. But a lot of up-and-coming hip-hop artists and their labels go with the theory that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. In a few cases, careers have been ruined by expensive lawsuits (Biz Markie, for example); others like Danger Mouse got huge career boosts out of the notoriety of being sued. It's a big gamble, either way.
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