Court rules sampling may violate copyright law at the molecular level

October 8, 2004

A Federal court in Cincinnati has ruled that even samples of pre-existing songs that have been significantly manipulated via effects such as pitch change, time-shifting, and looping are still protected by existing copyright laws.

Lower courts had already ruled that artists must pay when they sample another artist's work. However, it has been legal to use snippets and fragments of that work so long as they were not identifiable with the original artist and recording. The new ruling removes that distinction.

The case, stemming from one of more than 800 filed in Nashville on the matter, addresses sampling at the SR (sound recording) copyright rather than at the level of the composition (song copyright).

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