The occupations “DJ” and “lawyer” may sound like the farthest occupations in the world from each other, but in reality, they have more in common than you might think. As a DJ, especially as someone who wants to know how to sample music without getting sued, you sometimes have to act like a lawyer in order to protect yourself.

I know, copyright law doesn’t sound like the most exciting topic to discuss on a DJ blog, but if you’re a DJ who’s serious at all about using samples, you’ve already ventured into a complex area of copyright law, and not understanding how that law applies to you could have some serious negative effects.

The legal aspect of sampling is a big subject, and it applies differently in different situations, so to make it easier to understand, let’s break it down into a few different scenarios.

Playing Samples Live

Live gigs present the simplest situation when it comes to copyright law as, in most cases, the venue looks after all of the legal aspects for you. So whether you’re using a playlist or playing your own compositions (which may or may not involve samples), there’s generally no issue with live performance (assuming you’ve obtained all your music legally in the first place).

How to Sample Music on a Recording Without Getting Sued 

Understanding how to sample music without getting sued is a more complicated situation when you’re talking about releasing music in physical or digital form.

Typically, if you’re using samples in your original music, and you plan to release that music to the public, you need to get your samples cleared. How do you get samples cleared? Well, that’s where things start to get complicated.

Clearing a sample usually means getting permission from both a publisher and a record label. Since these are usually large organizations that often change names or get bought out by other companies, just finding out who to contact to get the process started can sometimes be a huge challenge.

If you’re up for figuring out how to clear your samples yourself, check out the Nolo online legal encyclopaedia guide on How to Obtain Sample Clearance. Or, if you don’t feel up for the work yourself, but you still want to make sure you’re covered, you can hire a music clearance expert or a music lawyer to do the work for you.

How to Use Uncleared Samples and Hopefully Not Get Sued

For many DJs, the easiest route is to simply go ahead and use uncleared samples but reduce the risk of getting sued. 

According to Nolo.com:

“If you use an uncleared sample, you can lower your risks by:

- making it unrecognizable

- not using the sample as the groove or hook

- burying it in the mix, and

- not using the title of the source music in the title of your song.”

Again, if you’re serious about protecting yourself, you can read the full guide on When You Need Permission to Sample Others’ Music.

Ultimately, this is a huge topic that’s too complex to cover in a single blog post. Suffice it to say that if you’re planning on releasing any music to the public that contains and obvious sample, and you think there’s a chance the record label and/or publisher that owns the original work could find out about it, make sure you do your research to ensure you’re protected. Otherwise, if you’re just learning how to sample music at home or using samples in your live gigs – don’t worry about it and just have fun making music.

Now that you know more about using samples legally, you can improve your sampling skills by becoming a member of our DJ school and checking out our tutorials on looping to learn how to loop samples and mix with them. Also, if you want to make sure you’re acquiring your samples legally in the first place, check out our video on where to get music.

Next time on our “DJs and the Law” series we’ll delve into the subject of remixes to help you figure out how to legally remix songs.

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