Court Rules That All Musical Samples Must Be Paid For

'Get a license or do not sample,' judges say.

When P. Diddy rapped in 1997 about taking “hits from the ’80s,” it didn’t sound so crazy, because sampling had been an integral part of rap music for years.

On Tuesday, however, a federal appeals court found the process a bit less reasonable, ruling that artists must pay for every musical sample in their work.

The ruling says artists must pay for not only large samples of another artist’s work, but also snippets — smaller notes, chords and beats that are not the artist’s original composition — which had previously been legal, according to The Associated Press.

Three judges sitting on the panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said the same federal laws currently in place to halt music piracy will also apply to digital sampling, and explained, “If you cannot pirate the whole sound recording, can you ‘lift’ or ‘sample’ something less than the whole? Our answer to that question is in the negative.”

The case at the crux of this new ruling focuses on the 1990 N.W.A song “100 Miles and Runnin’.” The track samples a three-note guitar riff from a 1975 Funkadelic track, “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” The sample, in which the pitch has been lowered, is only two seconds long but is looped to extend to 16 beats and appears five times throughout the track.

The N.W.A song was included in the 1998 film “I Got the Hook Up,” which starred Master P and was produced by his No Limit Films. The film company has argued that the sample was not protected by copyright law.

In 2002, a lower court said that although the Clinton riff was in fact entitled to copyright protection, the specific sample “did not rise to the level of legally cognizable appropriation,” according to the AP. The appeals court opposed that decision, explaining that an artist who acknowledges that they made use of another artist’s work may be liable, and sent the case back to the lower court.

“Get a license or do not sample,” the court said Tuesday. “We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way.”