Scratching and sampling has created some of this century's most vital and expressive music, bridging the gap between popular and experimental composition. Nevertheless, using a sample without permission violates two copyrights - the copyright in the sound recording and the copyright in the underlying composition. Because the cost of legitimately clearing samples cuts into an artist's record advance and royalty rate, it is understandable why many young artists later create their own samples in the studio after they become established acts.
While a sample of 1 or 2 notes is OK only if it is taken from a non-essential or commonly used phrase, another sample of 1 or 2 notes may be infringing if taken from a musically significant part of a song. Thus, taking the recognizable word "Help" from the Beatles' song, or appropriating the distinctive style of an artist's performance, such as James Brown's unique scream, would constitute an infringement. Because there is no hard and fast rule on what is safe to sample, the best advice is "When in doubt, obtain a license."
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