Abid Hussain is a man of many talents, not only is he a successful corporate lawyer, he also has 25 years of experience producing EDM and Alternative Rock and is a certified Ableton Live trainer. So when it comes to copyright and sampling, let’s just say he knows a thing or two.
If you’re unsure about the moral hygiene of your sampling habits, you should probably watch this 15-minute guide to practising safe sampling with lawyer/producer Abid Hussain.
So… how long can a sample be? What’s considered fair game and what isn’t? Well if there’s one man who knows, it’s Abid Hussain, an expert on copyright cases who draws upon his legal background as well as his own experience producing. In his 15 minute segment presented by Ableton, Abid Hussain explains that the answer isn’t really so simple.
As a lawyer, Abid explains that when it comes to sampling “you should never do it”. Technically no length of sample legally viable. However, as a producer, he says “no one is abstaining”, but that producers often practise “unsafe sampling”.
He points to the case of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, which as a song really did blur the lines of sampling. The infamous judgment saw producer Robin Thicke pay Marvin Gaye’s estate $7.4 million, as his use of sampling was not “fundamentally transformative” and hence too close to the original. Basically, he just ripped off Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give Up.
Blurred Lines was a bit of an obvious one, but what does it take to get away with it? Well, basically you need to work with the concept of ‘fair use’. Abid details that “certain things are allowed to be copied, criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research, without infringing on copyright law.”
In the same year as Thicke got fined, the ‘Cariou vs Prince Case’ actually expanded the concept of fair use. Instead of music, it was an artwork, however, the jury found that the original photo’s of Rastafari used by Prince were transformed via a collage and did not usurp the original market, hence they were protected.
So basically, if you’re going to sample, it needs to be fundamentally transformed like a musical collage and it shouldn’t displace the original market of the given sample. If you’re just recycling something or copying a hook, you should probably be prepared to pay for royalties or think of a good story to tell the jury.
Check out the video below for the full rundown and an Ableton demonstration