I did a quick search for some information regarding sound design and legal issues, sound samples licensing, etc. though couldn't find anything too specific.

For some time now I've been downloading pirate audio warez (mainly SFX libraries and pre-recorded music loops) for testing purposes and personal use. Whenever I came across a sound library I really found useful, I went on and purchased it.

I've recently completed a sound design job for a computer game trailer, in which I incorporated a few loops taken from libraries which I have no license for. Putting aside the moral/ideological issues of doing such a thing, I'm asking myself (and you) how dangerous is it really to do so? Considering the inconceivable massive amount of sound sample libraries being released every other day? Is there really somebody out there listening to every single mix being broadcasted online or offline and trying to spot out, underneath the different mix layers and effects, sounds which require a license….?

Also — and this is directed especially to the electronic-based sound libraries — couldn't I theoretically, with the right knowledge and gear, reproduce an exact replica of a certain sound I would be interested in using? In such case, how could one prove that I've actually stolen a sound sample from a certain library rather than used it as a reference to create a replica?

  • It's a contradiction that people and companies who make their living producing copyright content would blatantly pirate copyrights themselves. Please report pirates and illegal links and torrents to the affected publishers.
    – Rob Nokes
    Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 19:33
  • 7
    Your solution is to purchase those individual sounds online at a website or contact the publisher and request to make good with a purchase. Publishers respect honest people and will work with you.
    – Rob Nokes
    Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 19:40
  • 1
    While this question may have been on topic 13 years ago, it really isn't now. It is opinion based, straying into legal territory.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 16:02

11 Answers 11


Morally, I agree with Ryan and follow a similar Karma approach. That aside, when working in an industry such as ours, professionalism is one of the most important assets we can have. To use pirated software and un-licensed sounds shows a distinct lack of professionalism. You may be able to use un-licensed sounds in a project without having someone notice whether they are licensed or not, but when you need to work alongside others it can be harder to conceal. And you'd be surprised at how far reputation will aid or, inversely, destroy your career. Bottom line is that it is your reputation and professionalism that is on the line!

  • 1
    not to mention your integrity...
    – Colin Hart
    Commented Oct 2, 2010 at 14:49
  • 1
    Big, fat +1 on the morality and professionalism tip. Commented Oct 4, 2010 at 1:13

You have brought up some interesting points, but this is the way I see it.

This is a really tough industry to find work in. People slave long hours to create these samples and software and quite often for little or no money.

By pirating software and sound samples for a commercial purpose you are stopping someone getting paid for their hard work when they deserve it. This person may then decide the industry is not profitable enough and then start a new career doing something else, essentially starting the process of killing industry... the one that you work in.

Although, I feel this is down to the licensor, but I feel the use of these products for students and learning can be different. Many companies offer student licenses. I personally have no issue with a student using my work for free provided they contact me first, and I actually happily supply Broadcast Media students at my local University with sound samples if they need them (provided they credit me ;) ). But you should check with the Copyright holder how they feel about it.

Moral issues aside.

I don't think it is risky. There isn't a governing body listening out for illegitimate sounds. I am sure however if you were caught out, the Copyright Holder would come down on you like a ton of bricks.

Yes, you could theoretically with the correct knowledge and gear recreate sounds made. However, you'd 1) need to know alot about what you were doing, 2) have great analytical skills 3) Have alot of time on your hands to do so. Some sounds, particularly synth ones, have a very complicated make up, and can take a long time to design anyway. You could argue that the chances of having two different sounds from two different libraries with the exact same harmonic make up are pretty small.

As Ryan says, keep it honest. It's a fair more satisfying feeling. By paying people for their work you're helping to support the industry and helping it to expand and evolve.


It doesn't matter if you don't think the original owner would be able to hear it. It's theft, nothing more. You'd probably be pissed if someone stole your work; I know I would be.

As Rob noted in his comment directly in your question post, you can probably work something out with the publisher. If that doesn't work, there's a huge community online that you can take advantage of. Someone on one of these networks that we're in should have something that would work for the sound you need. Plenty of people are open to the idea of trading sounds, or even just doing you a favor.

I won't argue against the personal use idea; we all like to do a little experimentation. ;) Once you start getting into a commercial realm (or even simple public exhibition ideas), I'd highly suggest you stop conisdering the probabilities of evading notice vs. getting caught. All it takes is one person, one time, and your on the 5h!t-list (as Ryan mentioned).


I sort of believe in a thing such as Karma in life. What goes around, comes around sort of thing. I personally find it much more enjoyable and safe to record my own material or purchase a library honestly.

Chances that someone listening can target you for sounds buried in a mix? Slim to nill.

But I think you will find it much more rewarding and happier to just do your work honestly.

People work hard to record sound effects for libraries they release online - many of the best boutique recordists are regulars on this very website.

I think you will also find that the Sound Design community is very close-knit and tight indeed, and if you are caught on just one project, one person tells another, tells another, tells another, you end up on someone's blog and it's over for you, my friend. Just the other day I was e-mailing a total stranger who mentioned "Aren't you the recordist from...?" It's a small world in this industry.

Plus, I'd hate to be in the shoes of someone who is asked by a Sound Supervisor "Those sounds you put in there were great. How did YOU record them?" or "We want to use your exclusive Dolphin library you pulled from on our last project on this upcoming IMAX 3D Dolphin Experience - we're going to need those fantastic Dolphin sound effects and they are going to be very prominent in the mix!"...

It comes down to honesty and your own personal ethics.

Keep it straight. I think you'll find that it's a much more enjoyable, rewarding and fun road than the one you mentioned above about using sound you have no licenses for.

EDIT: Re-reading your question, I think I went on a bit of a tangent there - sorry. I would say that it's pretty difficult to hear something in a layer as being from a different library, but if you are using 1 or 2 effects prominently in a mix, it would be noticeable indeed. I have personally never heard of anyone ever being caught for doing such a thing by someone just "listening" to a soundtrack, but I also don't deal much with people who do that in the first place. As far as your question on electronic sounds is concerned, I think if you set out to duplicate what someone else has done, that's wrong. But if you figure out a sound totally independent from hearing what another artist has done, I think it could be arguable if you were able to show how you created it... Don't know how you could prove that you'd never heard the other artist's work before..

  • thanks for your reply. i totally agree with your views, which is also why i've emphasized within my question that i do purchase the libraries i end up using commercially. however, i still think this topic is very relevant, cause looking at the amount of people involved in sharing illegal/unlicensed audio material, makes you think how many people out there incorporate these sounds in their commercial work without even considering the concept of 'honesty'.
    – kampana
    Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 18:24
  • i personally think the sampling industry is undergoing a similar deformation process as the music industry went through. library developers will have to come up with new revenue plans otherwise this business won't survive much longer.
    – kampana
    Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 18:25
  • 4
    I'm not so sure it's an issue quite yet because everyone who I work with is honest and doesn't pirate samples at all, and I'm pretty sure that's the same for the rest of the professionals on this website. I think anyone who is serious about getting into this business is honest and is extremely intelligent (notice how this board never breaks out into immature wars, etc.) It's interesting: There is a tremendous amount of respect I feel (and others, too) toward a fellow Sound Designer just because we share the same reality of how tough and esoteric this industry is.
    – Utopia
    Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 18:38
  • @Utopia - Funny you should mention that about it never breaking out into immaturity-wars here! That's actually something that's always amazed me about this forum, people might not always agree, but we always respect each other :-) Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 6:45

As someone who feeds a family and pays their bills by making soundware, I have a few opinions on the matter. I'm just a one man shop and the products I make are specialized, small and affordable - usually in the form of add-ons for existing music software. They are also rather unique and people seem to love them. Not a horn toot, just based on feedback and a growing loyal customer base.

When you're selling digital goods to anyone piracy has just become part of the cost of doing business. It's unfortunate, but I've come to realize that it's not something worth losing sleep over, or even putting effort into trying to prevent. In fact, I almost try to look at it as opportunity. Time and again I have people purchasing my products who have downloaded them illegally and then ultimately been impressed with them enough, or found value in them enough, to go ahead and pay for them properly.

The biggest hurdles with being in the soundware business are the core built-in characteristics of the market, or just happen to typically be all of these at once:

  1. Musicians - notoriously broke
  2. Tech Savvy - notoriously fickle, impatient and aware of how easy it is to pirate
  3. Young - notoriously broke as well, and not yet mature enough to appreciate the harm in piracy

All that said, I've found ultimately that if I focus purely on creating great products then people will pay for them.

There are three kinds of digital consumers out there who make up my users, legal and not; Those who pay for everything, those who steal everything, and a few who right their wrongs by purchasing if they've been convinced of the value of your work. My job is to worry about the first group, and if I do extra great work then group 3 might come along for the ride. Group 2 is a lost cause. I'm ok with that.

I don't see piracy as lost revenue. I find it hard to call something "lost" that never would have been purchased in the first place. Worry about doing great work and about the customers that pay. Everything else is up to the wind. So far, so good for me.


To change the subject a little bit more - I think the smaller SFX libraries (hissAndRoar, the Recordist etc.) are a god send. The prices are low enough it makes it easy to justify the expense to the money men of the company. My producer doesn't look twice at a bill for e.g. 30€ for 30 original concrete collision sounds. This means I can grow the studios SFX library quite quickly and legitimately without anyone higher up noticing :) To put this into context - the easier it is to justify the expense the less tempting it is pirate ( not that I would ) - and the more people will buy, or thats what I hope. This new method of delivery is very healthy for the sound design industry - and I take my hat off to you guys who are creating this fantastic content.

  • 1
    Boutique libraries are definitely the way forward! It's much easier to purchase a very specific set of sounds that are for a specific project and fit the cost into that project's budget than to buy a 'traditional sound fx library' costing anything up to $5000. Commented Oct 4, 2010 at 7:54

I expect that this is a huge problem within the industry, I have had arguments with individuals who have pretty much taunted me for spending large amounts on sound libraries in the past when "you can get them for free off the internet". As Ryan said, its surely a matter of karma in these situations. Kampana mentions the deformation of the music industry, our industry is far less protected and could easily get to the stage where as soon as a recordist releases a sound library it is as good as public domain which would be a real shame. Unfortunately these practices go hand in hand with the nature of digital media and the internet. The product is intrinsicly devalued as there is no physical media and many people feel nothing of stealing 0s and 1s but would never dream of walking into a record shop and stealing a cd or vinyl. Jacques Attali talked of our need to stockpile information and music. I think its got to the stage now where the stockpiling has gone over the top with the advent of i pods etc We walk around with 10000 or more songs in our pocket but the fact we have access to so much surely devalues it somewhat. One of the mixtapes I used to make (and im not that old by the way) after going to search out records when I was younger has so much more value than 10 record shops worth of music on an i pod. Anyway, I have gone on to another subject so will leave it there as I stamp furiously on my i pod.


In all honesty, when I first tried to experiment with sound and did some films for school and such, I used pirated version of a sound ideas library. I bought the library afterwards but it still didn't make it cool.

I think if someone takes the time and effort to put together a sound library that makes your mix or sound design easier and quicker, you should atleast pay them for it.

One time is a shame on you(yes, shame on me too.)


My view is that it's plain and simple theft. If you don't have a particular sound then go and record it or make use of an online library.

Buying a recorder is a cheap investment and encourages you to think and be more resourceful, 2 qualities that will do you well. I say that from experience.

Sounds can be easily bought from a library such as soundsnap for very money.

All of this will take you longer than just pulling sounds from a library but the experience is more positive and less abhorrent than thievery.

Just adding this last sentence to say that the above would only apply in a commercial sense. I've worked on short films where money wasn't involved and would be fine using said sounds. If you don't use it for commercial purposes then I don't have a problem with it.

  • 2
    I'll agree with this for sure, I've used my Sony M10 a LOT in the house when I didn't have a sound I needed on library.
    – JTC
    Commented Oct 6, 2010 at 21:19

It's fair to give back if you take advantage of something that's been created by someone else, especially if you do it for money or prestige.

However, I have never quite understood the need for the limitations that copyright law puts on creative work. Yes it gives artists some "tangible" assets to own, yes it gives a chance to influence how one's work might get used. But fundamentally it limits what you can use to create, which I think is a stupid limitation.

People are using other people's work. They do so by licensing, although rarely by crediting by name/company unless it's a close colleague or something. Or when it's about sampling visual art, which has a much more simpler way of determining what's copying and what isn't. But is it really the sound files that are important, or is it the project that you put them into. Make a soundtrack of using only pirated material, and no-one would notice anything but 'your' work and how good it was, which is the normal case, no-one cares how you got the stuff together, only that it was 'created' by you, unless they are in a position in which they need to fear for legal inspection. Individual sounds can be likely spotted only by the original creator/editor himself or someone who has used the same sound source and happens to know that one hasn't got the right to use it and it would take quite critical listening to spot them in a dense mix or in a form that's been altered (cut, layered, processed etc.).

So yes, it's wrong. But I don't think there's a risk of getting caught for it, because not many people or organizations care about it. Well, they might care about it on their own part, but because it's rather impossible to recognize what's pirated sound and what isn't, until the original creator makes a claim about it, it's fairly impossible for them to know about it. And I think the law has its stumbling blocks that cause more problems than advantages.

  • I disagree with everything you have said. Firstly, I'm not sure which organisations you work for, but in my experience intellectual property is taken very seriously. Secondly, imagine you did all the sound design for a project then someone else came along, put their name to your work and got paid for it. I imagine you'd be pissed off, right? When you buy a sound library or individual sounds you are essentially paying a licence fee to the creator of those sounds. By pirating you are just cutting them out of the chain. As already mentioned a lot in this post, your integrity is also at stake! Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 15:33
  • 1
    IP is taken seriously, because it's the law. And so it's taken seriously by those that are in a position where they can be legally inspected. My post however criticizes the whole practice and so do I. I wouldn't be pissed about my work being pirated, because I have a different view of what copyright should be. I don't think art itself is an asset that needs to be protected, the people who create it could be, if it makes any sense. Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 15:40
  • 2
    unfortunately, there's a flaw in that argument though. artists need funding in order to create their work, purchase food, house themselves and generally stay alive. except for a few rare cases, we're well past the days of artist patronage. copyright laws are there to protect the artist's income and reputation. i don't see how you could ignore the value in that. to another one of your points, creativity is about working within limitations. claiming that copyright law limits one's work is just being lazy. Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 16:52
  • 1
    But you can't force people to pay for something that they don't find worth paying for. I think the choice needs to be left to the consumer rather than enforce it legally, because then you get all sorts of side effects, like the problems regarding to sampling. I support people that I think deserve it, but I don't think it's useful to dismiss the artistic possibilities that lie in if the assets could be freely reused to create something new. I think creating and seeing what others create is more fun than creating and prohibiting others from using it. Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 17:10
  • 2
    I'm not dismissing the artistic value that can be derived from freely available source materials. I'm saying people should not be taken advantage of. If someone invests their time and money into something, that other people wish to use for their own financial gain, that person should be compensated. "This isn't worth paying for, so I'm not going to...but I still want it." Is the same as saying, "You're work isn't worth paying for, so I'm not going to. I'm still gonna use it though, because it will make me money." This thread is not about artistry for the sake of art. Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 18:16

I am in an advanced Sound For Cinema class and we use the school's commercial sound library. This will eventually bite students if they want to post on YouTube.

YouTube has the technology to identify music automatically and look up copyright. If YouTube finds a match, the monetization is switched to the copyright holder with almost no appeal.

There is nothing stopping YouTube from looking for sound effects. The characteristics of the sound are different, background -vs- music. The scanning sample size gets smaller, 1 second rather than 4 measures. I suspect that Marvel® will be among the first to request this for their swoops, swishes and explosions.

Youtube has the technology. They just need to apply it.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.