I came across this very interesting story on sampling. I do use samples in my work although they are legal samples. Typically the samples I use are drum hits which are usually less than two seconds anyway.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on September 7th that an unauthorized two-second sample of a guitar solo constitutes copyright infringement under U.S. law. The court said that its decision creates a “new rule” in copyright law.
The two-second sample was taken from a song by Funkadelic. It was used in the song “100 Miles and Runnin” recorded by N.W.A. and included in the soundtrack of the 1998 film I Got the Hook Up. N.W.A. admitted to the sampling but had only sought a synch licence.
Bridgeport Music holds the copyright for the musical composition while Westbound Records holds the copyright for the sound recording. Bridgeport Music, Westbound Records and other parties filed lawsuits in May 2001 against 800 defendants, claiming 500 instances of copyright infringement arising from the unauthorized sampling. About half of those claims have either been dismissed or settled while the others are still pending.
In October 2002, a District Court in Nashville ruled that copyright infringement did not take place. Bridgeport and Westbound appealed that decision. The Sixth Circuit’s decision of September 7th found that the underlying musical composition had been licensed but the Funkadelic recording had been used without permission.
According to the Court, simply recording sounds onto a master recording renders those sounds original. Further, any sampling of sounds infringes the sound recording copyright. It is illegal to copy an entire sound recording without permission of the copyright owner but the Court decided that it is also illegal to sample less than the whole recording. If a producer is not able to obtain a licence to sample from a sound recording, either because the copyright holder refuses to issue a licence or demands too high a price, then the producer cannot legally sample from that recording. However, the court noted that U.S. copyright law allows a producer to record duplicate “sounds” with instruments in his own studio.