Sampling entails using portions of existing music in your new recording. For example, suppose you sample “I Will Always Love You” for a track on your forthcoming album.
Does sampling require permission? Most likely, yes.
Sampling may sometimes qualify as a fair use meaning your unauthorized use of the music is not copyright infringement. Unfortunately, there is no bright line rule for fair use. Using eight or four or even two bars of music does not guarantee a fair use determination. Instead, fair use depends on the specific circumstances of each situation.
As a result, it is risky to rely on fair use for sampling. Most commercially released albums obtain licenses for all sampled music. Which licenses you need depends on how you sample.
Licenses for Sampling the Song
If you go into a studio and record your own version of “I Will Always Love You”, you need a license only from the song copyright owner. Dolly Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You”. Velvet Apple Music, the music publisher that administers rights in the song, is the company you would contact for a sampling license.
Depending on the extent your album features “I Will Always Love You”, Velvet Apple Music might request partial ownership of your new song as compensation for the sample. Alternatively, Velvet Apple Music might be satisfied with a flat fee or percentage of the revenue generated by your new song without an ownership interest.
Licenses for Sampling the Sound Recording
Suppose instead you want to sample Whitney Houston’s 1992 performance of “I Will Always Love You”. In that case, you need permission from the sound recording owner. As compensation, the sound recording owner might ask for a set license fee or for a royalty. Sony BMG/Arista, Whitney Houston’s record label at the time of the recording, was the original sound recording owner. I’m not certain in whose ownership the recording landed after Arista’s demise.
You can not use the sound recording without using the underlying song. As a result, if you use Houston’s recorded performance, you are also using the underlying Dolly Parton song. In that case, you need licenses from both the song copyright owner and from the sound recording copyright owner.
For an explanation of how songs differ from sound recordings, see the posting, What Is a Music Copyright?