Free Samples Go Legit with New Creative Commons Sampling Licences

Musicians using samplers are faced with an unique set of legal problems. Using samples of copyrighted works has become a minefield, often just best avoided. Now new licenses from Creative Commons promise to make it easier for samplists to find samples they can use without fear of getting sued.

Sampling and lawsuits have gone hand and hand for nearly twenty years. In the eighties, musicians went sample crazy, leading to songs that were sound collages of cultural references. This trend ended abruptly, though, when songs like Paul Hardcastle’s “Nineteen” ended up creating legal problems for their creators.

Creative Commons Sample Licenses invite Samplists to get it on.The Creative Commons Sampling Licenses promise to make it easier for musicians to know what they can legally sample. The CC Sampling Licences were launched in December of 2003, and were developed with the help of veteran sample-art group Negativland.

According to Creative Commons, the Sampling licenses will help authors foster a broad range of culture, from photo collage to musical “mash-ups,” that the law currently deems illegitimate, despite its growing popularity and acceptance online. And while embodying the Creative Commons “Some Rights Reserved” model of copyright, the licenses will offer a combination of conditions and freedoms that our current licenses do not.

The Sampling License

The Sampling License is designed to let the author of the work invite others to transform their work, even for commercial purposes, while prohibiting the distribution of verbatim copies, or to be used in advertising.

For example, an artist could take a photo licensed under Sampling, crop it, and use it in a commercial collage, but she could not distribute simple copies of the whole, original photo. A DJ could borrow elements of a licensed song, royalty-free, and use them in an original piece. He could not, however, put a copy of the tune on a file-sharing network.

The Sampling-Plus License

The Sampling-Plus license will offer the same freedoms as the Sampling license, but will also allow noncommercial sharing of the verbatim work.

So, an artist could release her song under a Sampling-Plus license to encourage her fans to trade it on file-sharing networks, then remix or build upon it however they like. But the license would protect verbatim copies of her work from for-profit exploitation by others. Or a photographer could invite the widespread, noncommercial distribution of a whole photo and its resulting transformation while preventing others from simply reselling the photo, unchanged.

Additional information is available at the Creative Commons site.

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