Sample Library Royalty Issues

As more and more people are producing music in their homes, the market for sample libraries is also growing. However, particularly in the realm of downloadable libraries – where the barrier to vendor entry is practically non-existent – it can pay to double-check whether the samples you use are actually cleared for commercial use…

Avoid Being Treated Like Royalty

There is a thread over at the SOS Forums that questions the origins of many sample libraries sold under the banner of ‘royalty-free’.

There may be a significant difference between free loops and samples and royalty-free samples. If you are releasing a track, you really need to be sure that everything on there is cleared for take off, so to speak – or it might come back to haunt you later (in the form of a copyright infringement suit).

The Benefit Of Cleared Samples

Generally, if you sample someone else’s work, you need to pay them publishing royalties for the right to use the recording. However, there are plenty of grey areas here – particularly if you sample something and then process it to the point where it’s entirely unrecognisable.

The advantage of royalty-free sample libraries is that you are supposed to be free to use them in your own tracks as you wish, for commercial purposes or otherwise (although generally not to resell them in another sample library). In these cases, the sample libraries should contain loops and sounds that were created specifically by the originator of the library.

Beware The Bad Library

However, there are some sample libraries sold under this aegis that may themselves not be entirely kosher; in fact, the instigator of the SOS thread pointed out that one of his e-lab libraries contained copyrighted samples taken directly from 60s and 70s soul records.

If you happen to use such samples and your song becomes a hit, the owner of the original copyright may try to claim against you – and if this happens, the company who sold you the library will probably just change their name and continue pushing their illicit goods to other unsuspecting producers. You, however, will probably still be liable for whatever damages may accrue.

Ideally, you should create your samples yourself from scratch – but of course, part of the benefit of sample libraries is to save yourself the trouble of doing just that. So, make sure that you use samples from reputable companies who have been around for a long time – anyone who has been in business for several years is probably above board, and sample packs reviewed in offline publications such as Computer Music or Music Tech Magazine can generally be trusted to be what they claim to be. Remember, anyone can rip a few beats off vinyl, set up a download site and take your cash, and pull up sticks overnight if they get called out. Caveat emptor…


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