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is it illegal to cover songs and give them away?
Old 18th March 2010
  #1
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is it illegal to cover songs and give them away?

Is it illegal to cover a song and then give your version away for free, online or on cd or however? Do you still need to obtain a license to distribute a cover if you do not make money from it?
Old 18th March 2010
  #2
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Harvey Gerst's Avatar
The owners of the copyright are the only people that have the "right" to distribute a "copy" of their work. That is the essence of the copyright law; the right to make copies.
Old 18th March 2010
  #3
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so, for example, all the covers on youtube and myspace and such are either illegal or they've paid for the license to cover the song?

I've been researching his and can't come up with a straight answer... there is plenty of info on if you want to SELL a cover song, but nothing on the legalities of cover songs being given away on the internet.
Old 18th March 2010
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by n8tron View Post
so, for example, all the covers on youtube and myspace and such are either illegal or they've paid for the license to cover the song?
Pretty much.
Old 18th March 2010
  #5
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boody's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by n8tron View Post
so, for example, all the covers on youtube and myspace and such are either illegal or they've paid for the license to cover the song?
When you upload a song myspace warns you that you must have the copyright on the material, otherwise it is in fact illegal.
Old 18th March 2010
  #6
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rectifier's Avatar
 

As Gorillaz are finding out right now..

Gorillaz dropped into Time Warp, says Eddy Grant | Music | guardian.co.uk

although not a cover so I have made a boo boo.
Old 18th March 2010
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by n8tron View Post
so, for example, all the covers on youtube and myspace and such are either illegal or they've paid for the license to cover the song?

I've been researching his and can't come up with a straight answer... there is plenty of info on if you want to SELL a cover song, but nothing on the legalities of cover songs being given away on the internet.
Yeah, the legalities of it are pretty straightforward. Copyright infringement doesn't distinguish between profit/not-for-profit or commercial/noncommercial (those distinctions do come into play in a fair use analysis, though that likely isn't implicated here).

But what often happens is that it simply isn't practical for a songwriter to go after hobbyists distributing unauthorized cover versions for free. Add to that the fact that the DMCA provides for the notice-and-takedown procedure for unauthorized videos on sites like YouTube, and the cover versions you do see there are either ignored or haven't been noticed yet by the rights owners.
Old 18th March 2010
  #8
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In Europe you can do cover versions with little treaments, like changing the beat, converting pop into hiphop or so on
but you have to pay royalties
be carefull with net in europe, it´s not how much you sell, there are restrictions that can burn a hole in your pocket
dont know US
dont think of cover like sampling, if you sample and dont have the rights, you can even get a deeper hole in your pocket
Old 18th March 2010
  #9
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Illegal is the wrong word. How many of you guys have played covers? How many sought permission and paid the royalty to do so? I know I have never met a person that has done any of that and I know a lot of people that covers.
Old 18th March 2010
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Neenja View Post
Illegal is the wrong word. How many of you guys have played covers? How many sought permission and paid the royalty to do so? I know I have never met a person that has done any of that and I know a lot of people that covers.
At least here in Europe, every venue where you can play is already paying a fee for playing music, be it live or through a radio. So, for cover bands, the music the play is already payed for. If you play your own music you can tell the copyright org and they will distribute some of the money to your account. Peanuts of course, but still heh
Old 18th March 2010
  #11
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Neenja's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by boody View Post
At least here in Europe, every venue where you can play is already paying a fee for playing music, be it live or through a radio. So, for cover bands, the music the play is already payed for. If you play your own music you can tell the copyright org and they will distribute some of the money to your account. Peanuts of course, but still heh
Myspace and Youtube pay the PROs AFAIK.
Old 18th March 2010
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Neenja View Post
Myspace and Youtube pay the PROs AFAIK.
Yes. If I want the money, I have to do the research, point out where my songs are used etc etc. Then maybe I get some money. Their excuse is that it is 'too much work' to control the web, which of course is true. Their compromise is that the leftovers are equally distributed over all members. There is no ideal system though.
Old 18th March 2010
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boody View Post
Their compromise is that the leftovers are equally distributed over all members. There is no ideal system though.
Better than it going to Elton John and Don Henley like in the ye olden days.
Old 18th March 2010
  #14
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Turdadactyl's Avatar
First, you have to make a distinction between PLAYING a cover song and RECORDING a cover song. The two are handled differently.

You can perform a cover song, pretty much at will. Most of the time, the venue where you are playing is responsible for payment to performance rights organizations such as BMI and those payments will cover your performance.

As for recording...technically it is an act of copyright infringement to even record the song without permission. Again, it is also technically copyright infringement to make copies of that recording and to distribute the copies. If anyone ever came after you, you MIGHT be able to put up a "fair use" defense if you were not doing it for profit. But that would become a fact-based question for a jury/judge (assuming you got sued).

Bottom line, the technical, legal answer to your original question is: yes, you do need to obtain permission.
Old 18th March 2010
  #15
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thanks for all the responses everyone! seems like the general consensus is that it is indeed illegal, but, like driving faster than the speed limit, a lot of people do it and get away with it.

I've also been looking up what it takes to cover a song, and it appears that anyone can cover any song, even if the copyright owner won't negotiate, if they obtain a compulsory license and pay the fee (~9cents a song or more)
Old 18th March 2010
  #16
my first lawyer has always said it's not illegal till you get caught and pray to god you don't have a hit with it...
Old 18th March 2010
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by redvelvetstudios View Post
my first lawyer has always said it's not illegal till you get caught and pray to god you don't have a hit with it...
Yep; Bittersweet Symphony anyone? It's worth them ignoring the little stuff, to scoop when an illegal sample/arrangement gets big. It's a trap! Go back!!
Old 19th March 2010
  #18
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Neenja's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by divingduck View Post
Yep; Bittersweet Symphony anyone? It's worth them ignoring the little stuff, to scoop when an illegal sample/arrangement gets big. It's a trap! Go back!!
It's different because it's a sample. Everyone recording a cover should know they are sacrificing the writer's share of the track. It has worked out very well for a lot of bands, like Van Halen.
Old 19th March 2010
  #19
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Mojo's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by redvelvetstudios View Post
my first lawyer has always said it's not illegal till you get caught and pray to god you don't have a hit with it...
Well, having a hit with an unauthorized version of someone else's song isn't always a complete disaster; if you have some talent and some potential followup material that you do have legal rights for, you could leverage the resulting fame into some hits of your own, or at least a successful tour or two. YouTube is in a bit of a legal limbo, at present; it's tolerated, up to a point, by rights holders who mostly believe it enhances their copyright to have their songs/videos available in a common format that everyone on the internet knows how to access. The problem is that Google owns YouTube and sells ads which obscure some of the more popular vids; as this practice increases, more rights holders are gonna want a slice of that advertising pie. (which, in my opinion, will eventually render YouTube useless for anything but posting your wedding video for friends and family)
Old 19th March 2010
  #20
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Yes. But you can file for a mechanical license, for example through the Harry Fox Agency, and pay the statutory royalties up front out of your own pocket for however many copies you plan to give away.

I think it will be around 9 cents per copy you plan to give out. Not bad, unless you're planning on distributing millions.
Old 19th March 2010
  #21
Quote:
Originally Posted by n8tron View Post
Is it illegal to cover a song and then give your version away for free, online or on cd or however?
yes, it is illegal.

Quote:
Originally Posted by n8tron View Post
Do you still need to obtain a license to distribute a cover if you do not make money from it?
yes, absolutely. and the big kicker is you have to pay on every copy you give away or negotiate a rate for the copies you are giving away.

here ya go:

Music Copyright Laws. Using cover song versions legally.

So i covered a song what now?

U.S. Copyright Office - Copyright Law: Chapter 1

Mechanical license - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

U.S. Copyright Office - Copyright Law: Chapter 1
Old 19th March 2010
  #22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mojo View Post
Well, having a hit with an unauthorized version of someone else's song isn't always a complete disaster; if you have some talent and some potential followup material that you do have legal rights for, you could leverage the resulting fame into some hits of your own, or at least a successful tour or two. YouTube is in a bit of a legal limbo, at present; it's tolerated, up to a point, by rights holders who mostly believe it enhances their copyright to have their songs/videos available in a common format that everyone on the internet knows how to access. The problem is that Google owns YouTube and sells ads which obscure some of the more popular vids; as this practice increases, more rights holders are gonna want a slice of that advertising pie. (which, in my opinion, will eventually render YouTube useless for anything but posting your wedding video for friends and family)
all very good observations.

youtube/google know there is a ceiling on how far they can go with User Generated Content, and they know the professional content will either cost them more, or they will loose it.
Old 19th March 2010
  #23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Neenja View Post
Illegal is the wrong word. How many of you guys have played covers? How many sought permission and paid the royalty to do so? I know I have never met a person that has done any of that and I know a lot of people that covers.
yes for live shows, but release a recording and it's a different ball game.
Old 19th March 2010
  #24
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It's easy enough anyway,just email the publisher and ask for permission, we just did that recently and they replied back saying it's no problem as long as we dont change the song at all and give the writers/publishers credit and pay the mechanicle/royalties which probably wont add up to enough to buy a cup of coffee anyway. If however you want to change the song quite a bit you will have to deal more in depth with the publishers.
Old 19th March 2010
  #25
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narcoman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by divingduck View Post
Yep; Bittersweet Symphony anyone? It's worth them ignoring the little stuff, to scoop when an illegal sample/arrangement gets big. It's a trap! Go back!!
yeah - but it sold the album and took them to new heights. A calculated risk.

and a bad album.
Old 21st March 2010
  #26
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VitaEtMusica's Avatar
 

Lots of confusion and misinformation in this thread.

Quote:
Is it illegal to cover a song and then give your version away for free, online or on cd or however?
No, it is not illegal. You are, however responsible for paying the mechanical royalty to the publisher (via HFA) at the 9.1 cent stat rate per song distributed. You cannot be denied a license for a cover song. Most publishers work with the Harry Fox Agency to collect mechanical royalties. You can try to work directly with the publisher to have them grant you a reduced mechanical, which they might if you are giving the product away for free.

Quote:
Do you still need to obtain a license to distribute a cover if you do not make money from it?
Yes, but as I said- you can't be denied. That's why it's called a COMPULSORY license.

The reason Youtube doesn't work is because people are either directly using another artist's/label's music (can't do it), they're sampling other people's property and using in their production without permission (can't do it), or they're doing their cover versions and syncing it with video-- that requires a synch license issued from the publisher.
Old 21st March 2010
  #27
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narcoman's Avatar
 

good post
Old 21st March 2010
  #28
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thanks Vita, i was just about to chime in and you've got it covered.
Old 21st March 2010
  #29
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joedoc's Avatar
Don't forget, there's a difference with "sync rights", that is, putting the music to a video. That's generally even more difficult to obtain. Publisher's can't refuse the right to do a cover for an album, you just havet o pay the mechanical royalty. For video, however, you need explicit permission.

For small runs (a cover tune on your band's CD or on iTunes) try these guys:

www.easySongLicensing.com

Mark is very helpful. Keep in mind, there are different licenses for digital distribution (iTunes, etc).

For the small cost of licensing, it's well worth it to know you can sleep well with no thoughts of lawsuits... I mean, what if your hip-hop remix of "Muskrat Love" goes gold?

I guess the legal issues would be the least of the problems...
Old 21st March 2010
  #30
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VitaEtMusica's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by moracspace View Post
Straight truth,the last time I had to do this it was 6.3 cent per copy.
Honestly, very rarely have I ever paid the full stat rate. Six pennies is still pretty common. Doesn't seem like much, but it adds up, you know? It also helps if you have a carrot to dangle- like hey we're gonna get this thing a synch for such and such show or ad. I've had publishers completely forgo the mechanical when we were hooking them up with ad licenses. It's a good deal cause it allows the agency/client to make that song distributable... for "free." One less thing to worry about.
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