Date of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Type


Director of Thesis

Greg Stuart

Second Reader

John McElwaine


This thesis takes an in depth look at the history and processes behind creating sample-based music. Sampling was popularized during the beginnings of hip-hop music and now a wide variety of genres use samples or techniques created by sample-based music. Early hip-hop beats took samples of drum breaks or a portion of a track from another artist or band. As hip-hop grew in the late 80s and early 90s, the use of samples became a question of intellectual property rights and if it was acceptable to sample someone’s copyrighted work. Lawsuits in the early 90’s helped to create new caselaw concerning copyright infringement law so that hip-hop artists could continue to use samples in their beats. In most cases, the use of samples has to be approved by the original artist however a handful of cases have outlined how the use of samples could be “fair use” constituting a defense to copyright infringement claims. An important aspect of fair use and even receiving approval for a sample is how the sample is repurposed or transformed to create a new piece of music. This notion has shaped sample-based music and modern music often contains an incredibly creative use of samples. Today hip-hop is arguably the most popular genre of music despite being created over the last few decades. With that sampling has become more mainstream and everything from pop to indie music has seen its fair share of sampling.

In the early 2000s the music industry went through a radical change with the introduction of iTunes and digital music sales. In the past decade music sales have shifted to streaming services and these changes create new complications for the use of samples in music. Services such as Apple Music and Spotify allow users to pay a monthly fee to download and listen to a library of millions of songs. Another popular service for streaming music is SoundCloud, which is free for users and does not provide any payment to artists. One important advantage of SoundCloud is that artists can post DJ mixes. Apple music and Spotify have more strict terms regarding mixes, but it is possible to upload a mix with royalties given to the copyright owners of the music in the mix. Currently SoundCloud’s copyright terms suggest that samples or mixes need to have permission, but they will not be taken down automatically. The dilemma for up beginning beatmakers is that there is no way to know if their sample-based music is fair use and could be posted on a free streaming service such as SoundCloud. If a record label notices that someone has sampled their music, they can notify SoundCloud to take it down. So, it is important to outline fair use law pertaining to new streaming services. I am advocating that sampling and mixing songs on SoundCloud should have protection under fair use law mainly because the artists are not profiting off of the music.

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