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Making Profits From Or Using Cover Songs

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R. Alan IngallsMaking Profits From Or Using Cover Songs
by on Feb 13, 2012 at 12:06:38 am

I've recently noticed an abundance of YouTube videos of people performing and recording high quality covers of popular songs. With computers and the relatively inexpensive ability to shoot quality HD footage using a HD DSLR, many of the videos are great if not better works of art than the original. However, I'm puzzled to learn these artists (some of them with numerous songs covered and videos made resulting in quite a following) are selling their covers on iTunes for $0.99 and even available for streaming and downloading from services like Spotify.

How are they able to legally cover a popular song, record it, broadcast it in both audio and video forms (YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify), distribute and sell it (on iTunes)?

And if they are able to do this, can I legally record a cover of a song or just the chorus of a song and use it as the theme song of a TV/Web show I'm producing as long as I use my cover version of the song and noth the original recording?

Can I license someone else's cover version (perhaps for much cheaper than the original Artist's recording)?

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Wayne KeyserRe: Making Profits From Or Using Cover Songs
by on Feb 13, 2012 at 2:11:17 am

Of course, many cases of this may be cases of "I'll do it until they find me and make Youtube take it down."

EXCEPT that I've seen explanations by increasingly popular groups like Pomplamoose (look them up on Youtube - gosh, she's cute!) that do great videos of their renditions of popular songs (past and present) do it legally. They pay online for an instant "mechanical license" for the type of use they intend from Harry Fox Agency and pay the appropriate royalties as the online sales roll in. In this case, iTunes downloads would be covered by the license they choose, and royalties also would be paid.

It is my understanding that the use you describe, as a theme, would certainly need a license, and that such license would be a more complex matter than I just described.


There is no "way to peace." Peace is the way.

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R. Alan IngallsRe: Making Profits From Or Using Cover Songs
by on Feb 13, 2012 at 3:33:05 am

This is true. And I am familiar with Pomplamoose. Nataly is indeed cute. And wanting to use a slightly modified chorus of a popular song for a theme song to a web show (non-profit initially) is looking like a long shot, but does anyone know how to go about finding out.

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Todd TerryRe: Making Profits From Or Using Cover Songs
by on Feb 13, 2012 at 5:09:39 am

[R. Alan Ingalls] "lCan I license someone else's cover version (perhaps for much cheaper than the original Artist's recording)?"

Possibly, as long as you pay the above-mentioned rights. But keep in mind there are two (or sometimes many more) rights-holders. There's the rights to a particular recording of, say, a popular song... the rights of which get you that particular exact performance. You could circumvent that by recording it yourself or having some other group do it. But there's also publishing rights, held by the original writer (and/or whomever he or she has sold or assigned the rights to). There's no way of getting around those rights at all.

Also, keep in mind that when licensing music, many people are surprised to find that licensing for web usage is among the more expensive of the types of usage licensing available. We have to deal with this all the time, when a commercial client adds after-the-fact "Oh, and can you give us a file of our commercial that we can just put on YouTube as well?" Then we have to explain to them that they have only paid for broadcast rights, not internet rights... and that while we can easily add internet rights to their license, its going to be several times as much as they have paid for broadcast rights.... because any broadcast has a limited scope, whereas the internet goes everywhere with a potentially limitless audience.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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