The chilling effect of “kraftwerk I/II” on sound sampling
- 3 March 2015
Sound sampling has become a mature musical technique. We are years beyond the notion of “sound rip-off”. This art form still faces needless limitations due to legal uncertainty and high transaction costs while the technical options for sampling are now nearly without limit. German and American courts have narrowed the leeway for sample users and the question is whether the Dutch courts will follow. It is high time for selfregulation to stimulate sound sampling as an art form.
Using even a two-second sound sample can infringe the related rights of the phonogram producer. Like the seven-differences myth 2 in the field of design, the rumor in the music world has been that a six-second sample is permitted. If it was not already clear that this is not the case, the German Federal Court of Justice, the Bundesgerichtshof, recently sent the six-second rumor off to the land of fairy tales. In its two rulings in “Metall auf Metall I/II”” (the cases are also known as “Kraftwerk I/II”) the German Federal Court of Justice clearly stated that any take-over of any sound fragment recorded in a phonogram – however small – can infringe the related rights of the phonogram producer. That means that the phonogram producer has what amounts to an absolute right to its sound recording and its investment in it enjoys maximum protection. Good news for the phonogram producers, bad news for users of sound samples. There has already been great to-do about sound sampling in the international music world. Here is an overview.
To sample or not to sample
Sound sampling is a special way of using music that takes and repurposes often small snippets of existing musical works and/or music recordings, other sounds, and/or voices in new music productions. The development of the technology has had great influence on the nature and extent of sound sampling. Where the equipment needed to sample was quite expensive well into the 1980s, new hardware and software has gradually appeared on the market that has made digital sound sampling quite a bit cheaper and easier. Today it is possible to sample from home – as they say – with one push of a button. The use of sound samples in new music productions has consequently increased, exponentially…