Can I sample someone else's music?

Sampling is a form of borrowing from someone else’s music. If the music or any words/lyrics are still in copyright you may only use a sample or quote with the prior permission of the copyright owners.

The copyright owners can decide on what basis they are prepared to consider licensing this use. You may well be required to pay a fee, to assign part of the copyright in your work to the copyright owners and to credit the original writers and copyright owners as a condition of any licence. Equally the copyright owners are entitled to refuse permission in which case the sample must not be used.

Similarly, if you want to sample a recording of a song or piece of music which was made or released within the last 50 years then the recording will still be in copyright and can only be sampled with permission from the copyright owner of the recording (usually the record company) or their agent, PPL, and from the performer(s) in addition to the copyright owner of the music and of the words.

The sample used will infringe copyright in the music and/or the sound recording, as the case may be, if it is a ‘substantial part’ of the original and is used without the necessary permissions. The sample is considered ‘substantial’ by reference to its quality rather than its length. If it is recognisable, however short, as coming from the original piece of music or recording then it should be regarded as being substantial and the necessary permissions should be sought. If you are in any doubt, apply for permission.