Mail from the courts and jail Claim I stole the beats that I rail... Public Enemy, “Can We Get A Witness,” It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Def Jam/Columbia Records, 1998).
The act of sampling was originally developed by experimental musicians who physically manipulated tape loops or vinyl records on a phonograph. By the late sixties, sampling influenced the production of psychedelic rock and jazz fusion. With the arrival of Postmodern era, the technique of reproduction or recreation was reflected in all forms of art. Music was no different, the rise of hip hop and electronic music in the eighties made the art of sampling vogue. Early musicians from the good old 40’s and 60’s often did not bother getting permission from copyrighted owners for the samples they were using. Even when hip-hop was contained within the block parties in Bronx no formal measures were taken for sampling music. Only when hip-hop arrived as a mainstream genre of music in the 80’s it became necessary to obtain legal rights.
But what if an artist cannot get hold of the copyright owner? More often than not, major labels and publishers do not bother independent artists for sample clearance. If your aren’t signed, you get an easy pass. Which is probably why myths about sampling laws are so prevalent. One of the most common myth is that you can legally use a copyrighted song if the sample is shorter than 6, 15 or 30 seconds. Here’s a reference to debunk this claim – Vanilla Ice song Ice Ice Baby borrowed bass line from Under Pressure; the sample was barely 3 seconds long but that didn’t deter Bowie and Queen’s team to threaten copyright infringement which subsequently resulted in an out of court financial settlement between them.
Besides the complicated process of getting a sample cleared, the art itself has unequivocally elevated the music industry. Sampling is here to stay and will take the musical course forward in new and exciting ways.