Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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There are rumors that sampling only four notes is not copyright infringement because it is protected as “fair use”. This notion of reducing copyright infringement down to the number of notes uses, however, is simply wrong. If you sample a single note, beat, or line from a sound recording without permission, that constitutes copyright infringement. Under current US copyright law, unauthorized “sampling” – no matter how minimal or seemingly innocuous- is usually not considered “fair use”.

Under US Copyright law, the true test for copyright infringement is not the number of notes sampled, but whether the sample is “substantially similar” to the original work. The other main questions is whether it should qualify as “fair use“.

In short, if you engage in unauthorized sampling and get sued by the owners, don’t expect to prevail in court on a “fair use” defense if you use the songs commercially for your own private benefit.

(Reprinted with permission of Ruben Salazar, Esq.)