Sampling other songs is common in pop music, but if you do not get the proper license to use someone else’s copyrighted work, you could find yourself in court. However, while getting permission is generally easier, it is possible to avoid losing in court in certain cases.
For example, music legend Madonna recently prevailed in a copyright infringement case involving one of her biggest hits. The plaintiff accused one of the song’s producers of stealing a tiny snippet of another song he worked on and included it in Madonna’s song “Vogue.”
At issue was a clip of horn music from a song, “Love Break,” recorded in the early 1980s. Reuters reports that the producer worked on that song, and later worked on “Vogue,” which was released in 1990. The clip is very brief, lasting less than a quarter of a second, but company that owns the copyright to “Love Break” sued the producer, Madonna, Warner Bros Records and several others for copyright infringement.
In a 2-1 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California sided with the defendants. The majority said that an average audience could not recognize the clip, which it described as “at most, a quarter-note single horn hit and a full measure containing rests and a double horn hit.”
The dissenting judge said that a copyright violation is a copyright violation, regardless of the size of the unlicensed use.
Of course, most businesses hope to avoid going to court over intellectual property disputes. The best way to ensure you are covered is to consult with a knowledgeable IP attorney.