Sampling other people’s music can be costly, which is why so many artists are avoiding the whole issue these days and making their own original compositions.
However, when you think of all the great songs that sampled an earlier classic, you may be tempted to delve into the world of sampling yourself.
But how do you navigate the complex world of sample copyrights and legalities?
One answer is to avoid them altogether – which means looking for recordings that are in the public domain. To be in the public domain, the music you sample has to fit one of these criteria:
- All rights have expired.
- The authors have explicitly put their work into the public domain
- There never were copyrights in the first place
Anything not in the public domain is protected by copyright – which means you need permission or to pay to use it.
While music designed to be in the public domain and that which never had any copyright are easy to understand, the expiry of copyrights can be a little more complex.
Donald Trump signed the Music Modernization Act in 2018, which sought to simplify the issue of expiry. It stated that sound recordings (as opposed to sheet music for example), come into the public domain either 95 years after they were released or 120 years after they were recorded, whichever comes first.
So, you’ll have to wait until October 11, 2021, before you can use anything recorded before 1923. Those recorded between 1923 and 1946 won’t expire until 100 years after they were released, and those made between 1947 and 1956 will be protected for 110 years. Anything from 1957 to 1972 won’t be free to sample until February 15, 2067!
Obviously, when we start thinking of sampling last week’s big hit for free, it’ll be a long time to wait!
So, while it is possible to find pubic domain music for free, it might take a little bit more digging!
That said, there have been notable instances where a kindly sample owner is so impressed with someone else’s use of their work that they sign off the sample without asking for anything in return.
If you are lucky enough to meet someone like that, we recommend you get something down in writing – just in case!