Copyright Law and the Ethics of Sampling



I. Audio Examples of Legal Works and Copyright Infringements created Using Samples

II Explanation of the Main Components Used in the Construction of a Digital Sampler

III. World-wide Copyright Agencies

IV. Example lyrics from a musician who uses Samples

V. Useful addresses and links 

Copyright Notice

Back to Contents

Back To Top


I-Audio Examples of Legal Works and Copyright Infringements created Using Samples.

To accompany this work I have recorded a cassette which includes some of the examples outlined and described earlier and will allow you to make judgements upon the amount of appropriation and transformation and whether the creators of these pieces deserved the treatment they received or not. The tape is compiled of new music created by sequencing samples and also includes some of the original works used to create them.

Example number:

  1. The first example is the case of Biz Markie and Gilbert O'Sullivan. Unfortunately I could only obtain 10 second snippets, but they give an insight into how each tune sounds. The first is Biz Markie's 'Alone Again (Naturally)' and the second is Gilbert O'Sullivan's 'Alone Again (Naturally)'
  2. The second example is 'Beat Dis' by Bomb the Bass. Released on independent Rhythm King records label, it was produced by Tim Semenon and Pascual Gabriel and includes unlicensed samples from 'The Thunderbirds', Public Enemy's 'Rebel Without a Pause', Original Concept, Fred Wesly, and James Brown amongst others. The track is a 'Cut-Up' and as such it is a typical example for this period, and is a prime example of infringement. 'Beat Dis' became one of the first crossover hits inspired by Hip Hop, but was produced in a professional recording environment.
  3. The next song is unusual as it is a 'Cut-Up' like the previous example, but I was produced by 'ColdCut' a pair of DJ's (Matt Black and Jonathan Moore), legally for Urban records a subsidiary of Polydor. The song is called 'ColdCut Meets The Godfather' and is marketed as being by James Brown, although he had nothing to do with the records creation except for recording the original tunes incorporated within it. The record contains mostly James Brown samples and a few contemporary tracks. Many recognisable samples used else where can be recognised here. As the track is legal many of the samples used are longer than they would be if the record was illegally produced. Coldcut previously honed their talent on white label bootleg mixes such as 'Beats and Pieces', 'The Music Maker' and 'That Greedy Beat' which were underground hits but were most certainly illegal.
  4. The next song is M|A|R|R|S's 'Pump Up the Volume', which is also a 'Cut-Up', and after becoming a hit and receiving a great deal of media attention it also received unwanted scrutiny from the aggrieved artists sampled on the tune. The sample that caused most of the problems was a sample from (SAW), Stock, Aitkin and Waterman's 'Road Block'. Pete Waterman at the time condemned sampling but has subsequently utilised samples on some of his records.
  5. The fifth record is BrainTax's 'Chips on My Shoulder' (Explored further in Appendix IV). The track had a very limited release on the Low Life 'Fathead' EP, and so encountered no licensing problems although the music is entirely composed of samples.
  6. The next record is as yet unreleased but is the next single from Braintax called 'Jokes Over' which shows a creative use of a sample as the main basis for a second song. The sample is taken from the Crusaders' 'Serenity' but is selected from a small portion of the song, is greatly speeded up, filtered and processed.
  7. 'Serenity' by the Crusaders was released in 1976 on the MCA album 'Those Southern Nights', the track was published by Leeds Music.
  8. The final example is that of 'Today' by Tom Scott last released on a small circulation 1993 bootleg LP entitled 'Nuggets of Funk', produced by The Golddiggerz.
  9. The above record was sampled to good effect by Pete Rock for his band's (Pete Rock & CL Smooth), 1992 single 'They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)', from their 1992 Electra LP 'Mecca and the Soul Brother'. Pete Rock not only used the horns but chopped up other obscure parts of the record to create a new original song, but in no way credited Tom Scott. Due to the large scale release and size of the record label a deal to licence the sample with no need for artist creditation may have been done behind the scenes.
  10. The same Tom Scott record was sampled previously by the Black Sheep to produce their single 'Simelak Child' from the 1991 LP 'A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing'. The sample has been used in a completely different way to both of the other versions, and I feel that all are credible examples of creative music.

There are countless other modern examples which have recently been in the pop charts. Sara Nelson sampled the drum break from 'Pappa Was Too' by Joe Tex and George Michael has used 'Forget Me Nots' by Patrice Rushen to great effect on his latest number one single ''.

A 'Cut-Up' is a track made up of snippets of other tunes recorded to tape and spliced together, to form a backing track. More layers are dubbed on top to create a more complex track. This technique originated in New York, where turntable scratches are also used to add in more sounds. These records are usually illegal bootlegs, and are in great demand by club DJ's. Back

Back To Top

II-Explanation of the Main Components Used in the Construction of a Digital Sampler.

Anti-Aliasing filter.

II-Explanation of the Main Components Used in the Construction of a Digital Sampler.

Anti-Aliasing filter.

The main purpose of the Anti-Aliasing filter is to prevent an 'Alias' tone, a metallic whistling noise or metallic quality added to the input sound during the sampling process. The filter is implemented as a low-pass filter (with as steep a slope as possible i.e. 24 dB per octave), which limits the bandwidth of the incoming signal to at least half the frequency of the 'sample rate' (Nyquists Theory), cutting out the high pitched tone. This means that sample rate and frequency response are directly related. To produce almost perfect clarity a Compact Disc works with a sample rate of 44,100 samples per second or 44.1 kHz.

Sample and Hold.

The sample and hold circuitry is the first stage in the process of transforming the analogue signal into a digital form and performs 'quantisation in time'. The purpose of the sample and hold is to hold the input wave at a steady level whilst the ADC measures it. A suitable component is a capacitor which charges up at a clock pulse, holds that voltage and discharges just before the next clock pulse ready to measure again. The output from the sample and hold is a stepped (but still analogue) waveform (a version of the input signal). The clock pulse is set at the sample frequency, so for a good quality system at 44.1 kHz the clock will trigger every 1/44,100 sec. =22.7 m s.

Analogue to Digital Converter.

The purpose of the ADC (Analogue to Digital Converter) is to convert the analogue stepped waveform into a set of digital values. This is done by measuring the voltage of each of the steps created by the sample and hold circuit and is again synchronised exactly to the sample frequency. The Resolution or quality of the system is determined by the number of bits (amongst other factors) as this determines the degree of accuracy on the 'y' axis i.e. for an 8-bit system there are 256 (28) possible values and the job of the ADC is to round up or down the value of the step to the nearest possible value, this is quantisation in amplitude. Higher quality systems use 16-bit numbers and with advancing technology the best systems utilise 24-bits or even more where the steps are so small the input signal is changed so little human ears cannot hear it. Because the equipment works in binary the values that represent the instantaneous amplitude of the audio signal at a particular instant in time are digital.

A sampler will use RAM (Random Access Memory) to store the values generated by the ADC and often the data may be saved to a storage device such as a floppy disc. Tape based recorders such as DAT (Digital Audio Tape) record the data directly to tape.

Digital to Analogue Converter.

The DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) converts the digital information back into an analogue form that our ears can recognise. It is basically the exact reverse of the ADC. The DAC is also synchronised to the sample rate, if the sample rate is varied the pitch of the output wave is varied. Unfortunately the DAC can only regenerate to the nearest LSB (Least Significant Bit) and so any quantisation noise remains in the waveform.

Data Recovery Filter.

The Data Recovery Filter attempts to smooth out the stepped waveform output from the DAC to try and approximate the analogue signal that was originally input. This done by using a low-pass filter.

Back To Top

III-World-wide Copyright Agencies.

Some of the many copyright agencies operating throughout the world include:

Founded in 1984 the IIPA is an umbrella organisation of eight trade associations representing over 1500 companies in films, video, music and book publishing, computer software and the recording industry.

Founded in 1970 WIPO is 'dedicated to promoting the protection of intellectual property throughout the world and to ensure administrative co-operation among the intellectual property unions'. WIPO introduced the New Berne Convention Protocol.

  • The International Confederation of Music Publishers, (ICMP).

Incorporated in Brussels ICMP acts as an umbrella organisation for the International Federation of Popular Music Publishers (IFPMP) and the International Federation of Serious Music Publishers (IFSMP). ICMP addresses concerns of music publishers all over the world but at the present time is concentrating on 'Home Taping' issues in the European Community as it becomes a single market.

  • The International Copyright Coalition, (ICC).

ICC is an independent task force set up in 1991, has twenty members operating in over 80 countries, whose main job is to bring together societies from around the world to legislate protection against digital home recording and digital diffusion.

  • The Federation of Latin American Music Publishers, (FLADEM).

Based in Mexico City, FLADEM includes music publishers and associations from 10 Latin countries and is designed to promote Latin music.

BIEM is the most important organisation world-wide concerned with gathering mechanical royalties and is affiliated with rights organisations in 30 countries. BIEM negotiates the terms of the general licensing system, its mechanics, the rate and the minimum principal royalty with the International Federation of the Phonogram industries (IFPI). The terms are then administered by the member societies on a country by country basis.

This organisation is based in Paris and is dedicated to insuring the safeguarding, respect and protection of the moral, professional and economic interests attaching to every kind of literary and artistic property in the international sphere as well as that of national legislation.


Back To Top

IV-Example lyrics from a musician who uses samples.

IV-Example lyrics from a musician who uses samples.

This lyric is an extract from Hip Hop band, Braintax's debut EP single 'Chips On My Shoulder', (1992) which explains how rap artists and I myself feel about the use of samples and the regulations surrounding them:

"... And I'll be damned if I hear another person say/

That isn't music because they're not real instruments you play/

Narrow minds will say this/

But how many people can use a computer and play this/

Call me a rapist/

But we take you to levels (you never even knew) James-

Now some young people know you're name/

Bring fame to the dead and make Curtis sound hard-core/

Now who could ask for more?-

You want to change the law/

and I deplore what you said about the way we made this/

Sampled the drums but it don't sound like how he played it/

Music always stems from other people/

Listen to the radio-

The same old melodies played time and time you know/

Rave comes from Electro/

Electro comes from Disco/

You can put it all into the same mix/

Thrash beats, metal guitar from Jimi Hendrix and Punk/

Hip Hop from the Funk/

And some call it junk/

You want to stop the chain of music, you'll fuck up the whole system/

And every single musician will be a Victim..."

The lyrics are in themselves quite self explanatory of the situation the musician finds himself in. In the rap the writer states that he is tired of people saying that he does not make 'proper' music as he uses a sampler, he feels that this is a narrow minded view and makes the point that relatively few, so called 'real' musicians could use a computer to create 'good' music. He equates the feelings of alienation and hatred emanating from more conventional musicians and the music industry to that of being labelled a rapist in normal life and all the stigma that goes along with that, because by sampling without obtaining permission he is classed as a criminal. This however does not bother him as he takes music from "James [Brown]" and reuses it in such a way that he couldn't even have contemplated, and in doing so has brought James Brown and others to a new younger audience who may have never heard their music. Other artists who have been dead for some time have been resurrected by sampling, and music from "Curtis [Mayfield]" has been used and altered to such an extent that a once happy melody can be the basis for a 'hard core' 'Hip Hop' track. The artist then reiterates that he doesn't like the response he receives from some critics and says that although he may have sampled the drums, they do not still sound exactly like the original. The point is made that if one explores music one can see that there are very few original ideas and that most music is created from a group of influences. Some of the forrunning music styles that Hip Hop stems from are listed and the vital point is made that the people trying to stifle this creative use of samples will only destroy the spirit and development of young musicians and new musics, and in such a situation everybody will suffer.

Back To Top

V-Useful addresses.

Check out Phofo's law school dissertation on sampling, very much in a similar vein to my site, but from an American perspective:

 http://www.superswell.com/samplelaw/samplelaw.html :: email: phofo@superswell.com

Association of Professional Recording Services Ltd (APRS),

2 Windsor Square,
Silver Street,
RG1 2TH.

Black Music Industry Association (BMIA),

146 Manor Park Road,

British Association of Record Dealers (BARD),

Kingsland House,
512 Wimbourne Road East,
BH22 9NG.

British Copyright Council,

29-33 Berners Street,
W1P 4AA.

British Phonographic Industry (BPI),

Roxburghe House,
273-287 Regent Street,
W1R 7PB.

Copyright Contract Bureau,

113-117 Kilburn Lane,
W10 4AN.

EMI Music Publishers

127 Charing Cross Road

Free Music Philosophy E-mail: me@ram.org

MACOS Fax: +49 69 700563. Or E-mail: halvx2@io.org

Mechanical Copyright Protection Society Ltd (MCPS),

Elgar House,
41 Stretham High Road,
SW16 1ER.

Music Publishers Association (MPA),

3rd Floor,
18/20 York Buildings,

The Musicians Union (MU),

60-62 Clapham Road,
SW9 0JJ.

Performing Right Society (PRS),

29-33 Berners Street,
W1P 4AA.

Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL),

Ganton House,
14-22 Ganton Street,
W1V 1LB.

The Guild of Recording Producers, Directors and Engineers (Re-Pro),

P.O. Box 310,

The Umbrella Organisation,

PO Box 763,
SE24 9LL.

General Copyright Links

Back to Contents

Back To Top

Copyright Law and the Ethics of Sampling

Your Ad Here  

Send all comments, suggestions, & questions to: (QED)
1996-2005 Peter Low. All rights reserved

Web design and administration by: