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Is sampling legal?

The word plagiarism, as defined by the Law of Intellectual Property, is framed in a reasonably precise way. But what happens when music blurs the line of legality? That is when it all comes down to morality and interpretation of the law.

Between samples, borrowed loops and other “inspirations”, finding 100% original tracks is not as easy as it thought to be. Therefore, it is clear that this conversation won’t go away anytime soon. The legal limits on sampling are as confusing as they were more than forty years ago. That is why it is too frivolous to catalogue a song as plagiarism just because someone does not like the song.

Legalities of sampling

The Intellectual Property Law describes as a copy of work that resembles the original work so tightly that it can be considered an attack against the moral right of the original author. Some say that under this criteria, most modern music should be regarded as plagiarism. However, that would be an erroneous claim. Many works of art, from paintings to music, have been created thanks to the inspiration of previous works. Ergo, it would be a fallacy to assume that no one should be ever be inspired by other people’s creativity.

And while the validity of creating original music will always be debated, the reality is that the sampling of a registered piece is illegal if done without the author’s consent. Although certain tricks can be done to avoid breaking the law, like stretching or distorting a sample. But, for the most part, sampling will always be illegal if you have not previously consulted with the original composer of that piece. Daft Punk are masters of sampling, just like Kanye West. But several artists have abused this technique beyond acceptable. All of them have met the same legal faith, accusations of plagiarism.

Then came the morality

Beyond legality of sampling, we find the moral aspect, which is probably the thing that divides musicphiles the most. To discover that a producer has blatantly sampled an already created piece (i.e. a track, a template or a characteristic sound), without having named the author at any time, creates discontent. Additionally, arguing that their work is wholly original, and fruit of their creativity, may play even more negatively in public. Especially if it is taken into consideration that we live in a moment in which the technological advances discover evidence of sampling and plagiarisms quite expediently.

So, is sampling legal?

The law protects and defends a work that has copied parts of another within reason. But how does an artist feel when the public itself accuses them of plagiarism? That is platinum album question. Maybe, to avoid those accusations to happen, it is best to bet on honesty. Naming the authors of the works that have been borrowed clears any potential conflict of strife between people. Anyways, it could be annoying to some people listen to their favourite classic song being sampled and turned into a worldwide hit. But even the most magnificent works of art came grabbed inspiration from other masterpieces.

Credit: Kiki Ruiz

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