Audio Sampling and Copyright Implications

United States Copyright law generally protects original works of authorship that are permanently fixed in a tangible medium. Such works can include musical compositions fixed, for example, in records, cassette tapes, and/or CDs. Copyright infringement generally may occur when someone interferes with a copyright owner’s exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform and/or display copyrighted work. Therefore, copying a protected musical composition without permission from the copyright owner may constitute copyright infringement.

An issue arises when only part of a musical composition is used to create a new composition or when the copying is not note-for-note or word-for-word. The crucial question is: “When is the copy too similar to the original?”

The Fair Use Doctrine
Under the fair use doctrine, in certain circumstances, copying the copyright owner’s work does not constitute copyright infringement. Fair use limits the exclusive rights of the copyright owner by generally permitting the fair use of a copyrighted work in certain instances, including:

Criticism and comment
Parody and satire
Scholarship and research
News reporting
Factors Used to Determine Fair Use

Purpose and character of use
Nature of copyrighted work
Amount of portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
Effect of use on the potential market for the copyrighted work