UK Copyright and the Limits of Music Sampling

Julie Ewald, Paul Oliver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Music sampling is the act of taking a piece of an existing sound recording (the sample) and then using it in a new track. Sampling an original work without permission can infringe its copyright and therefore lead to lawsuits. There has still not been settled a single lawsuit regarding music sampling in the UK courts. It is therefore unclear to what extent music sampling can be used without infringing copyright. The overall aim of this paper is to establish the limits of music sampling and thereby determine whether music sampling could be used without infringing copyright laws.

The literature review establishes the history and development of music sampling and determines the applicable laws. It also determines that there are two main exceptions to copyright; fair dealings and de minimis, which will be considered in the analysis.

The methods used to analyse these two exceptions to copyright are the critical legal doctrine and the black letter analysis, which means that the analysis is based upon the statutes and case law. Due to the lack of UK case law, it is necessary to focus primarily upon case law from the US. Additionally, a survey was conducted to gather quantitative data regarding the use and perception of music sampling and its legality.

In the analysis the two exceptions to copyright are considered. It is found that the fair dealings exception cannot be applied upon music sampling, while the de minimis exception can be applied, if the sample is not substantially similar to the original work. This meant that a sample could only be considered as “de minimis” in some very limited circumstances. Finally, it is showed how musicians believe that this current legal situation regarding music sampling can have a limiting effect upon their creativity.

Overall, it is determined throughout this paper that the current copyright laws do not reflect the technological changes that has enabled musicians to unfold their creativity through “new” methods such as music sampling. It is therefore necessary that both the current law and their interpretation in courts are more relaxed in order not to damage the creative expression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalSocial Sciences Research Network (SSRN)
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2017


  • Copyright Law
  • Music Sampling
  • Music Industries
  • UK


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