How To Legally Clear A Sample: Copyright Clearance & Fair Use From A-Z

How To Legally Clear A Sample: Copyright Clearance & Fair Use From A-Z

Written by Cameron Mayo

A sample is a bit of music borrowed from one song and used in another. If you like sampling other artists’ work, you probably know that you need a license for the borrowed music in order to release the track. In clearing samples for mixtapes, you pay fees to the owner of the master recording, copyright owner, the publisher, and possibly others.

Many people believe that there is no need to clear small samples if projected sales are low. However, just because you probably won’t get caught does not make it any less illegal. If the song does get popular and the sample is recognized, you will certainly face fines. The owners of the sample have a claim to the profits you are making with your track and will come to collect.


In order to obtain copyright clearance for a sample of a master recording you will need to get permission from the copyright owner, publisher and/or the owner of the master recording. Typically, this is the record label. To find out who the copyright owner is, search performing rights organizations websites such as the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). The Harry Fox Agency may also be helpful.

After you find out who you need to contact, you can pitch your song and negotiate a price for the license. Just a heads up, they may not be interested and you’ll be out of luck.  Because these negotiations can be tough, there are agencies that will do this for you. They’ll charge a fee, but you won’t have to deal with a stingy copyright owner. The best, most reliable services are quite pricey, so make sure you really want to use that song. Some sample clearance houses may charge a few hundred dollars just to find out how much it will cost you to clear a sample. Typically, the more popular the song, the more expensive it is to sample. Sometimes there may be multiple artists and producers that have a copyright claim to a song which also adds to the final cost of clearing a sample.

There is also a sample clearance website that has already done this work for you. has thousands of samples from all over the world that you can search, find and pay for.  Once you have decided how much of a track you will use, you can return to the site and pay the licensing fee. The amount is based on how much of the track you will be using, the popularity of the track, and the artist who wrote it.


The Fair Use Doctrine states that there are a number of conventional uses of copyrighted works that are not considered infringing.  Such uses consist of quoting a copyrighted work to comment on or criticize the piece, or to teach about it.

There are four factors the courts will consider when determining fair use.

  1. The purpose and character of your use.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market.


Note: The contents of this article are not legal advice. They are the opinion and research of For full legal consultation, please contact a lawyer.

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