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Question about people singing covers on youtube and then selling the songs on itunes
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Chris Lago
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2nd August 2011
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Question about people singing covers on youtube and then selling the songs on itunes

Hey,

I've been checking out some singers on youtube and some of them have millions of views for covers they sung. Then at the bottom of their info, they usually have a downloadable version for itunes... This is quite alarming, is this even legal at all? Do you honestly think that they cleared the song? Is this becoming a trend? An unknown singer sings a cover and then sell it to the public?
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I think there are much bigger elephants in that particular room ...
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If the writer finds out that person can get sued. If you do a cover unless its cleared with harry fox who collects for the original writer(s) then you can only do it for promotional purposes. You cant just sing someone elses song and get paid from their works. Thats a form of copyright infringement
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2nd August 2011
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If I've understood the OP, the YouTube part of the story is actually not really relevant, right?

Essentially what you're saying is that iTunes has a lot of artists offering downloads of cover versions.

I've often wondered about that myself - whether iTunes polices that kind of thing. I would presume not.

Frankly I'm not sure I care that much. I can even imagine that there are 17-year-old kids out there who might do something like that who would never even dream that that might actually be contravening a copyright. I mean, if you grew up downloading everything and sometimes paying for it but mostly not paying for it, and watched 'Glee', you might well just think that's how music works.
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One thing that I've occasionally pondered is this hypothetical situation:

1. I have a YouTube video of me singing a cover.

2. Lots of people like it, and comment on it and rave about it.

3. On the homepage of my website it says in big friendly pink letters "If you've enjoyed any of my many YouTube videos, please put some money in my Paypal Hat! Any and all donations gratefully accepted!!!", with an email addrss and a clicky taking you to paypal.

There's a much greyer legal can of worms.
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2nd August 2011
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There may be a way of collecting a royalty behind the scenes -- if pursued -- rather than forcing the song be taken down.
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2nd August 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Lago View Post
An unknown singer sings a cover and then sell it to the public?
Can't resist pointing out that, rights-clearance aside, that does more or less describe the debut singles of a whole slew of chart pop acts over the last 10 years (most of them managed by Louis Walsh).
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2nd August 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by binarymilton View Post
One thing that I've occasionally pondered is this hypothetical situation:

1. I have a YouTube video of me singing a cover.

2. Lots of people like it, and comment on it and rave about it.

3. On the homepage of my website it says in big friendly pink letters "If you've enjoyed any of my many YouTube videos, please put some money in my Paypal Hat! Any and all donations gratefully accepted!!!", with an email addrss and a clicky taking you to paypal.

There's a much greyer legal can of worms.

Not really. Lots of people have the completely mistaken notion that copyrights can be violated, or don't apply, as long as nothing is being sold. That is absolutely untrue. Copyright is the right to copy, period. This also covers public performance, and youtube qualifies as presenting a performance to the public.
It's true that sometimes copyright holders do not bother with situations where there is no money involved, but they have every right to, if they choose.
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3rd August 2011
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Oh yes, I know that putting up a YouTube video of a performance of copyrighted material without clearance is a contravention of copyright (irrespective of who is performing it).

I realise, of course, that the copyright holder could ask them to take them down. (They generally don't though: youtube performances seem to occupy a cultural space similar to a busker's performance, and you don't see music publishers patrolling subways of the world looking to raid the hats of buskers)

What would be near-impossible to prove is how much, or indeed whether any of the revenue for those donations, which were for the cover-singing musicians work in general, could be ascribed to any particular song by any particular artist. They wouldn't even be payments for a product. I've sometimes wondered how this would work, from an income tax perspective, in terms of your own material.

All I'm saying is, doing something like Dangermouse's The Grey Album and putting it out there for free is probably quite a good way for an unknown artist to break out into public consciousness.
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3rd August 2011
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It's a brave new world in terms of ownership; a new generation of anarchistic consumerism meets an 18th-century legal/commercial mindset complete with a diminishing customer base. On things for sure, it's no good p*ssing into the wind of this paradigm shift.
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3rd August 2011
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Too right Arthur mate.

Only I'd quibble over the use of "anarchistic". I'd use "rampant" or "selfish" or "couch-potato" instead.

Anarchist politics have a humanist, communitarian base. Whereas downloading music without paying for it is all one-way.

Frankly, people sticking unauthorised covers on iTunes doesn't really bother me much. At least they're actually making music.

And if said songs they're by big mega-artists, then the management company will notice pretty quick and tell iTunes to take them down. If they're by the little guys then, er, probably the same. Or they may simply not care. We're talking drops in the ocean
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Artists have been stealing from each other for centuries.
A "song" did not always generate royalties for the author each time some street punk sung it in the street.
Bach never billed Mozart for stolen "riffs" yet both of them are still alive 300 years later.

I agree making money from someone else's work is theft (aside from lazyness and lack of talent) especially in these days of "intellectual property", but I think our generation needs to gain some humility regarding its plethoric "music business" vs. teh real business of the great old ones who MADE music, and now weep silently in their tombs at poor harmonic progressions in pop music or distasteful rapper gang wars.
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3rd August 2011
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You can sell covers legit with proper licensing through Harry Fox on itunes. it's not particularly hard, just paperwork.

Some artists do block that kind of thing, but not many. they'll take their money.
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3rd August 2011
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I've always wondered, because I watch them on youtube performing a cover... ok cool, I know it's not allowed but it's cool, but then they put the same song on itunes to purchase? You gotta be kidding me. You think all of these 17 year old tweens clear the song's copyright? I doubt that.

It's really ironic though that they steal something, claim it as their own, and then try to make money off of something that doesn't belong to them. That's theft at its worst. Are you saying that I can do a Billie Jean cover, put it on youtube then sell it on itunes without ever getting pursued? That's disgusting.
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3rd August 2011
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It's not illegal per se.

As far as iTunes goes, licensing a digital download is very easy and fairly inexpensive (depending on how many copies you sell). In fact now on songfile (HFA Songfile Home Page) you can do it all online. Any song that has been commercially released can be licensed and released by anyone. Whether or not those artist selling the song did it is another thing. I'd have to assume if they're getting millions of views they'd be selling a few thousand copies which means if the HADN'T gotten a license, the content owner would have come after them.

On the youtube front, singing a cover song and posting it on youtube is "technically" infringement, and those videos can be taken down by the owner. Like an earlier poster said, they are usually left up because many times the cover versions actually increase traffic to a particular song. Many times the content owners receive a piece of the add revenue. Youtube has some very sophisticated ways they can identify content in the videos that are posted.
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youtube aside (which is a whole other story), i'm pretty sure you can't post covers on itunes for sale without proof of mechanical license. it's not an open system, this is apple we're talking about here.

however, don't kid yourself that any of these people are making money. it's just a publicity tool. after the fees, itunes' cut, and the license, you're fortunate if you clear $.09 per song sold. however, it's a bigger audience, and that might get you noticed.
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3rd August 2011
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Some of these people are making money.

I was looking for some dire straits on itunes awhile back and someone had put up cover versions with a band name that was very similar to dire straits.

Without paying enough attention, I bought the wrong version. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
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I listened to a podcast with a few bands that did this. They all did in fact clear everything first. I can't speak for everyone but the people who I listened to did everything legally (and made a bunch of money doing so).
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jason poff View Post
Some of these people are making money.

I was looking for some dire straits on itunes awhile back and someone had put up cover versions with a band name that was very similar to dire straits.

Without paying enough attention, I bought the wrong version. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
You mean Stire Draights? They're one of my favorite bands!


I have never seen that one, but I have heard from a number of bands that "add" a cover to their "album" even though it was not artistically part of their concept. The idea being that even if no one is searching for YOU, someone might be searching for the tune you covered. I think a lot of covers on iTunes are this kind of 'tactical' move - a form of "iTunes SEO".
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3rd August 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tnsngwtr View Post
It's not illegal per se.

As far as iTunes goes, licensing a digital download is very easy and fairly inexpensive (depending on how many copies you sell). In fact now on songfile (HFA Songfile Home Page) you can do it all online. Any song that has been commercially released can be licensed and released by anyone. Whether or not those artist selling the song did it is another thing. I'd have to assume if they're getting millions of views they'd be selling a few thousand copies which means if the HADN'T gotten a license, the content owner would have come after them.

On the youtube front, singing a cover song and posting it on youtube is "technically" infringement, and those videos can be taken down by the owner. Like an earlier poster said, they are usually left up because many times the cover versions actually increase traffic to a particular song. Many times the content owners receive a piece of the add revenue. Youtube has some very sophisticated ways they can identify content in the videos that are posted.
Yes, I think YouTube calls it their "Content ID" system - where they algorithmically match each video with any copyrighted material they can - when they have a match ads automatically on that videos page and the copyright right holder has the option of allowing the video to stay up and share in those ad revenues or opt to have the video removed.

In the past year, a lot less formerly infringing videos are being left up and are generating legitimate income. So yes Pomplamooses' 7 million plus views of their cover of Gaga's Telephone has generated a nice pile of above board legitimate income for the Gaga, Rodney Jerkins and their publishers.

As far as then going onto to sell covers on iTunes - this is all 100% legitimate.

There's seems to be confusion throughout the thread that to release a cover of a song requires permission of the artist or the writers, which is simply no true. As others have stated all the is required is submitting the proper forms and playing the appropriate, flat, statutory fees ("statutory" meaning rates set by law, and "flat" referring to the fact the same rates apply to all songs regardless of popularity.

There is no seeking permission required - not for covering a song on CD or digital download release. Putting a song in a movie, TV show or commercial is another thing. As is using someone else's recording - completely different discussion.

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3rd August 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Lago View Post
It's really ironic though that they steal something, claim it as their own, and then try to make money off of something that doesn't belong to them. That's theft at its worst. Are you saying that I can do a Billie Jean cover, put it on youtube then sell it on itunes without ever getting pursued? That's disgusting.
just because somebody's doing a cover, that doesn't mean they are "claiming it as their own", irrespective of whether they have cleared the rights to it.
I think calling it "disgusting" is hyperbole. It's performing a cover.

As several posters have pointed out in this thread, there exists a mechanism to deal with licensing on iTunes for exactly this phenomenon. I didn't actually know that, so this thread has already taught me something useful. That makes much more sense, as I was initially surprised iTunes would have already thought long and hard about this kind of thing. If it were that easy to put unlicensed music up on iTunes, we'd have already read hundreds of stories about it. See quote from Harry Fox website below.

Chris, for the sort of music you make, which is hard to promote via the live-music-band-gigging route, performing a few [licensed] covers of appropriate pop songs on iTunes would be an excellent strategic way of garnering yourself some publicity. You mentioned 'Billy Jean' - it sounds like you already know what to do. I can't help but think the degree of vehemence you're expressing is partly down to the fact that this has already occurred to you.

"Mechanical Licenses are required under U.S. Copyright Law if you want to record or distribute a song that you do not own. By properly licensing your recordings, you ensure that the publisher that represents the songwriter who wrote the composition gets paid. Reputable replicators and online music sites will require you to have these licenses before they duplicate your recording or offer it online. Royalties for Songfile licenses are set at the current U.S. statutory mechanical rate. In addition to royalty fees, there is a modest per-song processing fee of $13 to $15 charged by HFA, depending upon how many songs are licensed.

HFA's Songfile makes this easy. Songfile licensing is a tool to obtain mechanical licenses in a quantity of 25 to 2500 units for physical recordings (CDs, cassettes, vinyl) made and distributed in the U.S., or to create and distribute permanent digital downloads (PDDs) of a song from a server located within the U.S., at the current statutory mechanical rate . In addition to royalty fees, there is a modest per-song processing fee of $13 to $15 charged by HFA, depending upon how many songs are licensed at once. All processing is done online, and in most cases, you will have your license within 24 hours. Once processed, licenses are made available to you electronically for viewing and printing through your Songfile account. Please note that all songfile license fees are non-refundable."
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Quote:
Originally Posted by binarymilton View Post
Too right Arthur mate.

Only I'd quibble over the use of "anarchistic". I'd use "rampant" or "selfish" or "couch-potato" instead.

Anarchist politics have a humanist, communitarian base. Whereas downloading music without paying for it is all one-way...
Yeah - fair comment...I don't want to tarnish any anarchists...it's tough enough as it is; I guess 'anarcho-consumers' would describe the bootleg revolutionaries.
The link is in the idea that all property is theft and therefore it's morally OK to steal (unless it belongs to me); the banks and corporations do it - why not music collectors? I think the old boundaries of ownership are being contested and it's a morally ambiguous, expensive landscape for anyone born before the advent of cassette tape bootlegging.
Personally, I pay my dues and have nothing cracked - it's a zen thing...I don't want all that subconcious guilt bugging my ego and I like to support those who've earned it.

I guess the 'victims' of the copyright infringements could automate bots with forensic algorithms to track down and demand retrospective revenues from 'offenders' (particularly if it's a bad cover )...probably a lot of money in coding that.
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5th August 2011
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Originally Posted by VT-MHE View Post
If the writer finds out that person can get sued. If you do a cover unless its cleared with harry fox who collects for the original writer(s) then you can only do it for promotional purposes. You cant just sing someone elses song and get paid from their works. Thats a form of copyright infringement
every gig I've worked with a 'cover band' is doing just this are they not?
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But doesn't youtube itself break copyright if someone posts a song? Even if they don't make a dime isn't copyright infrigment still happening?
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Yes, but the same goes for a busker who sings a cover.

Or indeed, a song played over a public broadcast system.

It's copyright infringement, but generally people don't care.

As with most things in life, people start to care once money gets involved. People singing covers on youTube is generally tolerated.
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I released a cover of Katy Perry's 'Hot n Cold' fairly recently - I licensed it through Limelight (same as Harry Fox.) It's fairly cheap (around £20-30 for the license to sell 100 downloads) and only takes about a week. Believe it or not, because covering songs is so lucrative on youtube, most youtubers are well aware of song licensing and WILL get it cleared if they release a cover on youtube.

And no, it's not really any kind of money maker. It's not as bad as one poster made out though - I forget the exact amount but I worked out I'd make around £30 profit on every 100 copies sold.
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6th August 2011
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Chris, your attitude makes me sad. You sound like someone from a dying generation, who rather than attempt to understand the new world, just lashes out at everyone and blames them for ruining everything.

You're right that if they're mixing models, and utilizing the old system when it benefits them, but ignore its rules when it doesn't, then it's wrong. But you have to understand that this is a transitional period.

They can justify being paid for the performance. The original author of the song loses nothing if they redo it and are paid. It enriches people's lives, and makes them feel good for producing something of value.

It's understandable to feel cheated. You worked hard, and wrote your own stuff, and here are these nobodies out of nowhere doing nothing but singing some song off the radio, and they're getting more than you!

But they're not playing the same game as you, and it's not going to harm you. Just do your thing, and be happy for them. If you want to cover a song, go for it. If you're worried about the legality, then license it.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chris lago
Hey,

I've been checking out some singers on youtube and some of them have millions of views for covers they sung. Then at the bottom of their info, they usually have a downloadable version for itunes... This is quite alarming, is this even legal at all? Do you honestly think that they cleared the song? Is this becoming a trend? An unknown singer sings a cover and then sell it to the public?
Quote:
Originally Posted by darhgo
youtube aside (which is a whole other story), i'm pretty sure you can't post covers on itunes for sale without proof of mechanical license. it's not an open system, this is apple we're talking about here.
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Originally Posted by andonwego View Post
There may be a way of collecting a royalty behind the scenes -- if pursued -- rather than forcing the song be taken down.
There is a blanket licence fee that you have to pay, and it is scaleable depending on how many views you think you're gonna get. (I got the info from the UK PRSformusic website)

you don't have to use harry fox, limelight etc
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But they're not playing the same game as you, and it's not going to harm you.
not correct. it can absolutely harm the image of a song or artist and those future royalty streams. say your long-time hit song is covered by the biggest moron ever and becomes the joke of every kid in the developed world with 100 million views. well, now big artists definitely won't be looking to sample that song, it will be forever uncool for future generations to associate with that song. it is a huge deal. that's why, luckily in the real world, we have copyrights. its why the copyright holder can have youtube remove any cover song they desire.

Quote:
Originally Posted by marcreeves View Post
Believe it or not, because covering songs is so lucrative on youtube..............And no, it's not really any kind of money maker.
so by lucrative you mean pure exposure to record labels, your friends, etc?

Quote:
Originally Posted by binarymilton View Post
It's copyright infringement, but generally people don't care.

As with most things in life, people start to care once money gets involved. People singing covers on youTube is generally tolerated.
its a copyright holder case by case basis. all over the board. if they like it, they might keep it. some have a zero tolerance policy. some have no policy. some just got up on the wrong side of the bed that day. or some publisher's kid said how stupid a particular cover song was. you name it, its happening.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lanyee View Post
But doesn't youtube itself break copyright if someone posts a song? Even if they don't make a dime isn't copyright infrigment still happening?
that would be like a pawn shop being liable for every stolen good that comes through the door. they provide a service to the community, try to use good judgement and police what they can, and work with law enforcement when needed. and in return, they're allowed to exist. The ones that aren't attempting to be good citizens will be closed down.

in the USA (every country gets to decide for itself) Viacom didn't agree and sued Google for $1 billion, because that's what we do in the USA (youtube has taken away a lot of VH1 eyeballs). Viacom (aka MTV/VH1) lost.

The long answer is that Youtube is a service provider (does not post copyrighted material, uploaders do) and is entitled to the safe harbor protection of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, acts expeditiously and removes alleged infringers when notified by the copyright owner.

USA courts have guidelines for safe harbor protection under the DMCA - and to be very general about it - its (sort of) like i outlined in the pawn shop example.
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