Re: When is an MP3 file like a lighthouse?

From: James Rogers (
Date: Mon Oct 29 2001 - 17:13:07 MST

On 10/29/01 2:47 PM, "Lee Daniel Crocker" <> wrote:
> Sampling is NOT "fair use"--just look at the long lists of permissions
> on rap albums. Yes, some excerpting is "fair use", but such use us
> very limited--only small excerpts, either for non-commercial use, or
> parody (even though even Weird Al has been sued many times) or a few
> other uses.

Where it gets fuzzy here is that you CAN sample individual notes and sounds
and use them as the basis for a sampled instrument and still have it
considered "fair use". The problem is that while sampling tiny bit of audio
such as a drum hit or horn stab for use in a completely different context is
legal, at some point a sound becomes sufficiently complex that it is
identifiable with the source and therefore no longer "fair use". The
problem is with the definition of "identifiable", which can be molded to
suit the aims of the individual or corporation. An audiophile can
semi-regularly identify the source of even mangled samples from some other
source that he is familiar with (being able to fingerprint the character of
a single note), whereas most people have a hard time identifying one note
samples. Record companies regularly argue that single note samples, even
with additional processing that obscures its origin pretty thoroughly, are
derivative works that violate their copyrights. Sometimes they win,
sometimes they lose, but what is allowed is by no means clear.

Interestingly, the manufacturers of sample based instruments don't care if
you sample their audio ROMs and sounds for your own commercial purposes.
Even though core sample libraries are considered extremely valuable
property, they are really only valuable as a raw material for building a
sophisticated system. The logic behind this attitude is that any simple
usage of their sample libraries will give mediocre results compared to their
integrated systems, while producing any really competent copy of their
system would be far more expensive than just buying the real thing. In the
end, the net effect of instrument copying (which does happen) is free
advertising for the maker of the original instrument. People who like
samples of a particularly machine will frequently end up buying that machine
if the sounds have sufficient value to them. Otherwise, they may continue
to use a few samples they purchased from a third party, but they wouldn't
have bought that machine themselves anyway. I personally have bought
musical instruments based on an individual sample that I heard somewhere in
the sample library of someone who didn't find the instrument particularly
valuable. This is at least one example of an industry where very lax
enforcement of copyrights hasn't hurt anyone and arguably benefited a lot of


-James Rogers

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