Avoiding Lawsuits That Give You The Harlem Shakes

315214893_1361059429In 2013 the label that gave the world the viral hit Harlem Shake faced a serious legal issue. The story has become something of a modern parable for fledgling producers who tend to sample without seeking permission.


Guest Post by Simon Davies for SubBass.

Baauer, the artist behind Harlem Shake, had apparently sampled two artists in his track but had never asked to use said samples. Then, as he went viral, the lawsuits went big.

Here is an introduction to some of the laws surrounding sampling and how to avoid issues if you suddenly go big or a label wants to sign you.

Getting Permission To Use Samples

There are two major types of sampling, one involves the use of the master track and the other is uses a reproduction of the composition that you can create yourself. The first requires permission from both the label and the composer and the second requires only permission from the composer. 

Internet_radioGaining these permissions can be a pretty long process. Depending on who you are sampling you could find yourself facing a steep payment or never receiving a reply. But if the fear of the aforementioned Baauer story has had any effect, you’ll need to get in touch with the label’s legal department and gain permission from them as well as the individual(s) that composed the track.

Make sure if you’re using a sample from a master track that you have both permissions or else you may start your music career with a lawsuit that ends it.

Use Professional Sample Services

This can save you a whole lot of hassle. For independent bands or producers it is incredibly difficult to go through the ‘clearing’ process. It is costly, time consuming and if you don’t know how the track will go down, it might not be worth the effort. 

An alternative is to use pre-collected samples. SubBass Academy of Electronic Music have recently partnered up with CR2 and to celebrate, they are giving their sample tools away for free to SubBass students, alumni, friends and family. This is a great way to sample because it’s worry-free and you have a whole host of music at your fingertips to play with.

You can also use sample remake and royalty free music services that usually ask you for a one off payment or membership payment to use their samples. This takes away the lengthy process of acquiring permission from labels and artists.

Make sure you do your homework on a service like this so you don’t end up throwing money away.

Look For Audio That Is Licensed Under Creative Commons

Thanks to Creative Commons you can find music that you are allowed to sample royalty free. Creative Commons works alongside copyright law to enable an artist’s work to be used and built upon by other artists without infringement. If you want audio that you can use for free and without worry of a lawsuit then searching through Creative Commons can be a great way to find it.

The main lesson here is to be careful what you use and where you use it. If it’s for home use then it isn’t likely to cause you a problem but say you put the track up on YouTube and the views start mounting, it could eventually turn the heads of the people you’ve borrowed from.

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