If I compose a piece of music using instruments and sound effects that I don't own the copyright to (but am licensed to use), can I release my composition under a free/open license that allows derivatives, without violating one of the two:

  • The free license that allows derivations, or
  • My license to the instruments / sound effects?

To elaborate: most closed music composition software provides collections of sound files for different instruments, called sound banks, which they retain the copyright to. Under their user licenses, they often state that you are not allowed to redistribute those sound files, but it is implied that you own the copyright to any music that you compose with those sound files. An example from Propellerhead:

The sound samples and musical examples connected to the Software may NOT be reformatted, mixed, filtered, re-synthesized, or otherwise edited or altered for use in any kind of commercial sampling product/package or software- this is strictly prohibited without the express written consent of Propellerhead Software.

An example from Soundation:

The sounds can be used royalty free by the purchaser of the downloads in any context except:

  1. To make another sample/sound effect CD or database, even if the material has been manipulated.

  2. To upload the individual sounds to a sound database to be used by others

  3. Any sound file CD/database or multimedia sound library.

  4. Any multimedia or game product DVD/CD or web game that includes isloated sounds from PowerFX.

But here's the problem: free/open licenses allow derivation, so if I release under such a license, technically end users can take a portion of my music and redistribute it. For example, they can sample it and release their own track with those samples.

  • Does this mean that they can sample isolated sounds, like drum beats, and release a drum beat pack? If yes doesn't this violate the sound license? If no doesn't this contradict the free license?
  • Is this affected by how well I mix the sound effects and make it harder to extract the original sound effects? What if I make a piece of "music" that is solely comprised of isolated sounds?
  • Do these licenses fundamentally conflict, i.e. am I forced to look for a license with a no-derivatives clause, or a free sound bank?
  • Or, can I include a clause prohibiting extracting individual sounds from my music?
  • 2
    The question is good, but then there are too many questions whithin the question. Don't you think?
    – E. Celis
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 4:46
  • Asking about any sound banks is too broad. I suggest you limit this question to a single specific sound bank. Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 8:58
  • You can distribute yous source excluding proprietary sound files, leaving only some references to them. Then, user must somehow obtain the required proprietary files to build the music. Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 11:54

1 Answer 1


As stated by the propellerhead license, you can't use any of the examples or sound samples included, those are aren't yours. But you can bring your own samples to create your music and distribute as you like.

In the soundation's case, the music you create with those samples is your own, even if you redistribute it with a derivatives license, it will hardly be the isolated sounds for a library or collection, any derivative music would be based on your own creation which soundation allows.

  • 2
    If this answer is true, someone could release an open source song consisting of easy-to-split sounds from the sounds bank, then split the sounds, and distribute them. Right? Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 5:53
  • Most musicians will mix the samples in a way that makes it hard to split, but as pointed by the OP it could be a case, an edge case, and will need some third party advise.
    – E. Celis
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 15:41

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