Licensing Music: Cover Songs, Samples, and Public Domain

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Cover song licensing: how to legally sell a cover songJust as driving a school bus, flying an airplane, and operating heavy machinery (legally!) require the appropriate credentials, specific licenses are required to legally distribute, adapt, and publicly perform music.

Knowing which licenses exist and how to obtain them can save headaches, aggravation, and most importantly – legal fees incurred from copyright violations (money that we’d all rather spend on cool instruments and better recording gear!)

The Golden Rule of Music Licensing

Like most forms of intellectual property, copyright, and large automobiles — if you don’t own or control it, you need a license to use it.  While there are some exceptions to this (such as public domain works), the golden rule is a common guideline that can helpful in determining what rights need to be licensed and how to obtain them.

Are you using a composition, a sound recording, or both?

In order to determine the appropriate license, you’ll first need to ask the question – what am I looking to use?  Are you creating a cover song?  Are you sampling an existing recording?  Knowing the difference between compositions and sound recordings is key to determining the necessary license.

Compositions (the underlying structure of the song, including melodies, lyrics, chords, etc.) and Sound Recordings (the fixed master recording and/or audio file) are two separate copyrights.  Compositions are often called “publishing rights,” while recordings are “master rights.”  Music publishers and songwriters control the publishing rights, and record labels and recording artists (if they own the label) own and control the master rights.

Still confused?  Don’t worry!  Publishing can be a difficult concept that can be understood via an analogy.  If sound recordings are the building, then compositions are the blueprint. Without the blueprint, there’s no way to exactly replicate the building (at least not without some heavy-duty architectural know-how, years and years of schooling, etc.).  The blueprint provides the necessary information to create the building much like the musical composition outlines the chord progression, melody, and lyrics needed to create the sound recording.

What do you want to do with the music?

Now that you understand the difference between compositions and sound recordings, it’s easier to determine what license we need.

Make a Cover Song: Cover songs have always been popular, and are now witnessing an unprecedented uptick by way of tribute albums and song sessions (The Flaming Lips doing Pink Floyd, Beck’s Record Club), the popularity of American Idol and Glee, branded entertainment like Levi’s Pioneer Sessions or The AV Club’s Undercover series, and as bonus cuts to digital-only releases.  If you’re looking to record your own version of a song, you’ll need to secure a mechanical license from the appropriate music publisher.  Under U.S. Copyright Law, mechanical licenses are required if you want to record or distribute a song that you do not own or control.

Use a Sample: If you’re using a pre-recorded track (ie. the recording of Van Halen’s “Jump” in a new recording), you’ll need to clear BOTH the sound recording copyright with Van Halen’s record label as well as the mechanical license from the music publisher to use the underlying composition.  Since you are creating a derivative work, this is an area that requires negotiating as there is no standard rate and will require direct contact with all parties.

[Check out “How to legally clear the samples you use in your music.”]

Cover Song: Getting a Mechanical License

In the United States, artists and record labels are typically responsible for clearing the right to use cover songs (ie. third-party compositions) via a mechanical license.

A mechanical license is a broad term that refers to the reproduction for distribution or sale of musical compositions in the form of sound recordings. Any time you produce a recording of a composition you do not control you need a mechanical license.  The mechanical license is often limited to one configuration (such as a physical CD/album vs. a digital download vs. a ringtone).  Almost all publishers require a separate license for each use.

There are many entities that can assist in clearing mechanical licenses. CD Baby offers this service through our cover song clearance partnerships — providing a one-stop online tool for artists, bands and labels to clear cover songs and third-party compositions for digital downloads, physical albums, and ringtones. Customers can create an account and finalize their mechanical licensing within minutes via a simple process. Check it out HERE.

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  • Linda

    Did I dream it or wasn't there something a while back about CDBaby setting up a program for us to license out our music?
    You can do that now thru reverb, but I think they want like 51%. If that's the going rate I would rather have CDBaby cash in.

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  • this is useful info but still doesn't help to much. Like where do I find the licensees and how do I approach them or get in contact with them. I suppose a layer could do it but I'm not and that stage yet.

  • admin

    Razorian – No need to contact the publishers directly. Just use this link to let LimeLight handle it – http://rightsflow.com/cdbaby

  • What about when you record a parody of a song. I've re-recorded (covered) several old popular songs and changed the lyrics to be either funny or to make a social statement.

    Do I need to get a license or permission to release these on CD Baby?

    In researching Weird Al and 2 live Crew, apparently you don't need permission to do a parody and so I assume you also don't need a license or to share any of the money you might make when doing a parody? Is that correct?

    Any info would be helpful. Thanks,

    Neechee

  • That's a good question. I am recording an original song, but in it I am using short instrumental phrases from famous songs for a humorous effect (no more than three bars each). Does that apply?

  • I have a question. Mechanical licenses are applicable only for so many units. How do digital downloads factor into that? With physical copies, it's easy, because you know how many units you are going to have printed. There is no way to predict how many units we are going to sell through a digital marketplace. Would we renew the license in an "after-the-fact" manner, ie. the license is good for 2000 units, do we renew once we sell 2000 downloads?

    Thanks to whoever can clear this up for me!

  • Jan Hauenstein

    Hi admin,
    I´m a German. On CD Baby. As a German, I got the publishing rights for the three cover songs on last year´s 'Late Bloomer' via GEMA, obviously. New album is finished, all that´s missing are the publishing rights for my cover of Jackson Browne´s 'These Days'. The German sub-publisher told me that might take weeks. Can I solve the problem with LimeLight? Still need GEMA´s permission for the small company that is to whatstheword replicate? the 300 initial copies of the album.
    Thanks for your trouble – it is rather urgent

    Jan Hauenstein

  • Jan Hauenstein

    Ok, looked at the FAQs – not for international licensic. Damn…
    JH

  • @KNova,

    Very simple – you can clear a set number of units in advance of sale (say 25 digital downloads). As you sell the digital downloads, you can come back to Limelight to renew for more. The license doesn't expire and is easy to renew for additional units.

  • Hi Jan,

    You can certainly use Limelight to clear the song for US distribution/sale. Any track that you want to do a cover version of can be cleared through Limelight for US release.

  • Hi Neechee,

    Parody is a touchy subject. Your best bet is to always consult with a music attorney or reviewing copyright write-ups beforehand.

  • Reinhold Behringer

    Hi, I live and work in the UK. Plan to publish a CD through CDBaby.
    Would this limelight licensing also work here?
    Would the PRS be involved? On their website there is no mention of
    mechanical licenses… are those applicable to the UK?

    What about the situation where the composer is dead for more than 70 years,
    but the printed score implies an everlasting copyright on the composition?
    Is a mech license necessary in that case?

  • Pat Kinsella

    This is all good info to know. But unless something has changed, CDBaby will NOT digitally distribute your cover songs even if you have legally licensed them. They will sell your physical CDs with covers on them, but when it comes to digital distribution, the cover songs just disappear from the list.

  • @KNova,

    I asked this question to the Harry Fox Agency and then again to Limelight, and the answer was the same: my best bet was to keep track of how many copies I distribute, and purchase more licenses when I got close to running out. If my sales went over the number covered by the license, I could still buy more and apply them retroactively — just so long as I bought them soon after. Limelight told me the same thing, but actively discouraged waiting until the last minute.

    All that said: send an email to Limelight with your questions. They got back to me in less than a day.

    Set a calendar reminder to check your licenses vs. sales each month to help stay on top of it. Make it part of your bookkeeping.

  • Weird Al's parodies are of the lyrics. He still uses the music as it was written and recorded in the original, so in his case he has to give attribution to the composer (music writer) and he gets a writing credit as the author (lyricist) of the new derivative work (I Lost On Jeopardy). The publisher may split some of the publishing and royalties since he is generating revenue with his wildly popular parody.
    Short answer; yes you need to work with the publisher, license the work and pay mechanical royalties to the writer and publisher.

  • @Pat – Not sure why you had an issue with your cover songs, but CD Baby has always distributed cover songs digitally. If you're having an issue with one of your albums, please contact our customer service department so we can help you get to the bottom of it.

    We do require you fill in the correct publisher info for each cover song, so if you leave that filed blank in the sign up form (or just put wrong info in there), we won't send the song out for distribution until the correct info is in place.

  • question… my artist is going to cover lionel richey classic ballad "Hello" and the piano chords are sampled but a seperate drum track along with other instruments were added. In addition, my artist is going to write his own verses to it; using some of the words to the original verses. He is singing the hook as.."hello, is it me your searching for" and then repeating it through the hook, almost like a sample itself..(if that made sense!!) What clearence do I need and does limelight handles contacting the publisher for mechanicals???

  • Pat Kinsella

    @Kevin, Thanks! I looked again, and it does seem that download of the cover mp3s is available. So I don't know what i was thinking of/remembering that behaved that way. Anyway whatever i had in mind – it's all good now, so thanks for letting me know this.

  • mikurotoro

    Does this include covers of video game music?

  • Kev

    What happens if you cover a song that has a sample in it? Do you get a license for the song and then contact the publisher of the sample?

  • Reinhold Behringer

    Hi,
    one comment regarding Limelight: they do not appear to check if a song license is actually required. I did a bogus entry with a music piece that did not exist, and they returned me with a price quote.

    So one rule needs to be observed with Limelight: you need to know beforehand if the cover song requires a license or not. I guess one can try at the Harry Fox Agency web site to search if a particular song is in their database. I just did that with two songs I knew, and one of them was in their database, the other was not. With this info one can then use Limelight – actually what would be the advantage of Limelight vs. going directly to Harry Fox and get the mechanical license?

  • @ Reinhold

    Hi Reinhold,

    We always do our best to verify the songs requested via Limelight – each song is examined by a licensing specialist. If it seems like the requested song is either in the public domain, controlled by the customer making the request, or otherwise inapplicable for the Limelight service, we contact the customer to determine the best course of action.

    However, there are many times when very obscure songs are requested, and no copyright owner can be found. In these cases we file a notice with the US Copyright Office, as permitted under Section 115 of the Copyright Act. In your case the bogus song you submitted fell into the latter category, as it appeared to our systems as an obscure song.

    The advantage of the Limelight system is that you can get a license for ANY song – even fake ones you make up. A search through the Harry Fox database is actually not indicative of the universe of songs that can be licensed. Unlike Harry Fox, which will only license what is registered in its database, Limelight gives its customers the ability to get a license for any song out there.

    We invite any customers with specific questions to check out the FAQs on the site or contact support@rightsflow.com

    With best regards,
    Ben C
    Limelight Team

    ps – it didn't sound like you had paid for the bogus song, but if you did please contact support@rightsflow.com for a refund.

  • @ Kev

    As long as you are not using any sample from the recording itself (ie you are re-recording the song you want to cover from scratch), all you need is a mechanical license, which can be provided via Limelight.

    If you are using any part of the recording, you will need a sample clearance, which Limelight does not provide.

    These technicalities can be complicated and do vary based on the specifics of each situation. If you have questions, we invite you to check out our FAQs or email support@rightsflow.com so we can address your situation specifically.

    Ben C
    Limelight Team

  • @ mikurotoro

    Yes! Limelight provides clearance for any song you want to cover.

    Ben C
    Limelight Team

  • @ Von B

    Your situation may be considered a derivative work and therefore beyond the scope of a mechanical license – without knowing a bit more it is hard to say and you may want to run the question by an attorney. However if you feel strongly that this version is more akin to a cover version of the song (which Limelight can provide clearance for), we invite you to contact support@rightsflow.com to address the specifics of your situation.

    Ben C
    Limelight Team

  • @ Reinhold Behringer

    Sorry Reinhold, I just now noticed your earlier question. In a nutshell, mechanical licensing is handled differently in most territories outside the US. In the UK as well as many other major territories, it is very common that the digital music services will pay mechanical licenses directly to PRS (or the applicable local rights society in each territory). Therefore the artist would not be responsible for getting a mechanical license in that territory.

    Regarding public domain songs, the PD laws differ country to country. This website is a good source for PD info in the US:
    http://www.copyright.cornell.edu/resources/public

    Thanks,
    Ben C
    Limelight Team

  • I want to print a parody to Paul McCartney's YESTERDAY, which may be published in several magazines. I've use Harry Fox Acgy before, but Limelight sounds more thorough and affordable. I plan to apply for mechanical license on several tracks in the future, but at the moment, only need authorization for printed form of YESTERDAY.
    I appreciate your help.
    John Beavin

  • Reinhold Behringer

    Hi @ Ben,

    thanks for your answer to my questions!
    So the search for a license will be done by the Limelight specialists only later, and if no license holder can be found, then the fee would be reimbursed? Makes sense, because, as you say, it may take a while to identify the correct license holder. I did not pay, so no need for reimbursement – I stopped at the stage of when I was quoted the fee.
    When I did the search at the Harry Fox agency, I also noticed their incompleteness: for example, I searched for Stravinsky's Petrushka, and there came up a few recordings – in my opinion there must have been many more, because it is quite a popular music piece.

    Thanks also for clarification regarding the UK situation. I wonder how it is then if I am the "digital music distributor", and I would offer the music directly on my web site – in that case I would probably have to pay mechanical licenses. My concern is not for the sound recording, but only for the music composition – I would like to produce recordings of music which was composed by composers who are less than 70 years dead. The PRS website does not provide much info about this situation – could you point me to any site which offers advice and a clarification of the UK situation? From the FAQ I derive that LimeLight would not cover UK licenses, right?

  • Does anybody know how to clear a cover song to post on Youtube? Is this even necessary since it doesn't directly make any money?

    Thanks,

    Michael Waite

  • @Michael

    Here's a great link for YouTube cover songs.

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/youtube/thr

  • @Reinhold

    While online digital music service providers oftenhandle mechanicals in the UK, the PRS has a buy-in of over 100 pounds for individual sites hosting music on their site. Limelight doesn't handle UK (or any non-US territories) at the moment.

  • indiecds

    I think that limelight is just what I have needed for some time. Some years ago I released a CD with 6 singer/songwriters on it. they each performed one song of their own and one of Bob Dylan's songs. I was able to get the licensing on my own for 5 of Dylan's songs but one song was a problem. I used Harry Fox for that one song. the problem with Harry Fox is that the license expires after one year so I had to renew it every year. The album was not a big seller and I always ended up paying more for the fees to Harry Fox than what I received from the digital sales of that one song. so it was a money losing scenario. I thus removed the entire Cd from digital distribution. With Limelight the license does not expire after one year. So I am toying with the idea of re-releasing the album digitally.

    I also got the idea that while I previously had to report every 3 months to the publishers of Dylan's other 5 songs, what I could probably do is pay them for a number of downloads in advance which I think they would be happy to agree with since it would mean less work for them accepting small checks every 3 months.

    I also like the singles program that CD Baby has started. It is a great way to release a song that may have explicit lyrics. It keeps that song off an album that otherwise would not be designated as explicit. It also is a great way of releasing cover songs. My plan is to release a number of cover songs by an artist I represent as singles and then later put out an album with the singles on it. The album would not be released as a digital album but only as a CD. That way if I want to remove a song from digital distribution I would not have to remove the entire album from distribution.

  • I used Limelight's services recently. I have two CDs coming out that are filled with cover tunes (50 cover tunes in all!). You can secure licensing online with them, but I really love the fact that I could simply phone them and take care of it instead of trying to figure it all out on my own. They'll answer your questions. Great customer service!

  • Marshall Wright

    I am a musician/singer/songwriter. I have been doing this for most of my life. There is to much red tape. Let me know where to go to audition, sign the contracts and get the show on the road. I am sending a demo to CD Baby. All I need to know is where to go. Too many people want to have control. My style and voice is as good and if not better than most. I feel confident I could sell millions on-line without performing. If you want me to perform, let me know day, date, time. It is as simple as that. Don't send me to a battle of the bands. That is for amateurs and wanna bes. I have already proved to myself that I can do it. There comes a time in every musicians' life where they must decide to be in reality and beauty of music, or a carnival act entertaining temporary sensations. Music has to mean something, otherwise the song will only be a temporary fix. I am looking for musicians who have creative expression and immense feeling. A true musician feels harmony and vibrations within their inner soul. It is about the music and not self-glory. If you do music for the purpose of money you will become a hollywood cut-out. Money is a good thing but, it should not be the motivating factor. A true musician will release their inner person and not be concerned about time frames. I am not interested in satisfying another person's idea of what they think I should write and sing. It is my life, and I perform for those who feel the same way as myself.

  • Andy Firth

    I just don't sell my music to the US territories-easy!

    The rest of the world is covered by my Country's music licensing agreement.

  • I AM PLANNING ON RELEASING " BLESS YOU " FROM JOHN LENNON…MY QUESTION IS..
    CAN I USE THIS MECHANICAL LICENSE ON REVERB NATION ON FACEBOOK …TO RELEASE WITH MY OTHER ORIGNINAL CUTS…

  • What Marshall Wright says may be true but the fact of the matter is promotion is all that counts. There is no advantage to starving to death. Mediocrity reigns and the public loves it. Take some dog doo and put it in a pretty box with a nice ribbon on it and the public will eat it up. No pun intended.

  • Susan Berg

    What about publicly performing cover tunes? How can an artist obtain permission if the venue has no agreement with performance rights organizations? I've been told in the past that promoters and venues must pay and licenses are not available to artists, but asked to sign contracts that say it's my responsibility – have any other artists had this dilemmma?

  • I found a poem on an "online community" site. It seems it had been forwarded on endlessly, and I haven't been able to find the original author, either at that community, or via ASCAP, BMI, or the Library of Congress. I've since put orchestration to this poem, changed the words slightly, and recorded it. Could Limelight help me identify the author to get a mechanical license?

  • If I record a remix of a Beach Boys song and add a rap to it, do I still need a mechanical license from the publisher if I am giving the song away and not selling it?

  • We've released covers on our CD. In the UK, we got an MCPS license for the number of copies we were having made. Without this, the manufacturers would not (should not) make the CDs. As far as I'm aware, this covers us for sales of these CDs anywhere in the world. However, it does not cover us for downloads. CD Baby have our CD ("Hommadocks & Thingummyjigs" – Ailsa & John Booth) but we've never been able to resolve how to get licenses for downloading the tracks which aren't ours to copyright. Our sales numbers are low (in fact, zero in the USA so far :-[ …) so it's not worth us forking out for Limelight licenses. The new CD, which we're currently working on, has only one non-original track (i.e. one cover) and we'll pay the copyright dues through the MCPS as usual. I'll ask them about downloads and if I get any joy, I'll pass it on.
    PRS is different – it's to do with broadcast and performance only.

  • Shannon

    I used to do mechanical licensing and royalty admin for a living in Nashville. It's not all that complicated. And you don't need to pay anyone to request the license for you really. All you have to do is contact the owner of the copyright in writing, asking for a mechanical license. You can pay them so much per sale, you don't necessarily have to pay upfront for a certain number of copies. Most publishers will allow you to give promo copies without paying them, so you only pay for the CDs you sell. Then you just give them a royalty statement each quarter to show sales and what their percentage is, and send it with their check.

  • @ Marshall Wright (and others)

    A certain amount of confidence, even arrogance, is arguably necessary to persist in all forms of art, particularly in this passionate medium of expression which we have all chosen. But this is a MUSIC BUSINESS forum, and dissuading the young artists on here from working as hard as they personally can to that effect, particularly in a time when the business aspect of music is more in the artists' personal control than ever before (a positive step, I believe) is a highly negative and unhelpful attitude. It is that head-in-the-sand mentality that will come to separate the successes from the homespun artists that continue to perform for solely for their friends and family. If that is your intent, then no harm no foul…but to post here and attempt to influence or encourage others that seek genuine career opportunity in this field in such a manner is misleading and ultimately NOT at all helpful.

    And besides, Limelight is a service that offers to do exactly what you are complaining about _ help cut the red tape. I personally would not use Limelight, but rather approach Harry Fox (etc) myself for licenses and save on the additional costs involved…but nevertheless this is a useful forum for a lot of confusing questions along those lines, and we should keep the focus here on exactly that.

    Young artists need to be savvy and aware, particularly nowadays, if they hope to rise above the cream of the crop. This is a fantastic time for the aspiring (and hard-working) independent artist

  • I've been playing cover songs live for 40 years my song list is praticly enless. Having only recorded original songs all my life I now see the reason most artist do cover! In the future Limelight will be the only way to go for me!…..Music & Love from the Motor City!

  • @Anne

    Thanks for the kind words!

  • @Timo

    For streaming sites, you'll need to check your user agreement. Many of them already handle the streaming license + royalty payments. However, if the site requires you to clear the mechanical rights, you're responsible for the streaming license and will need to clear it directly with the publisher (as this is currently outside the scope of Limelight – in the near future it will likely be included as an option).

  • @Susan

    Publicly performed cover tunes are usually the responsibility of the venue to clear (often via a blanket license with the PROs – ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC in the United States). Next step would be to ask the promoter if this responsibility will fall to them (in the event the venue doesn't have a blanket agreement with the PROs).

  • @Adam

    Unless explicitly outlined otherwise by the publisher, all uses (free or otherwise) require a license and royalty payment.

  • @John Booth

    For US downloads, you would need to clear the mechanical license (known as a DPD license for digital downloads) separate from the physical product you're putting out in the UK. You can go the DIY route by contacting the publisher directly and asking for a license (as @Susan noted). The advantage to using Limelight is in streamlining the process, ensuring you get a license in a timely fashion for a nominal fee + making sure 100% of the publishing royalties get to the publisher/songwriter(s) regardless of where they're based.

  • Phil Julian

    If someone writes different lyrics to a song, such as what Wierd al yankovic does in his satyres, or when “she’s got Betty Grable eyes: was redone as “She’s got Marty Feldman eyes ”
    What kind of a license is required to put that on a CD, since half of it is original and half is borrowed?
    Is there a separate deal for satyrizing a song?
    Thanks
    Phil

  • Of the two licenses the most difficult, if not impossible, to get is the master sound recording. We use cover songs in our proyects with music from the 40's up to 60's. Our last proyect is still on hold because we have not been able to obtain the sound recording license. We have tried every name in the music bussiness witout success. We are talkin about 12 songs recorded under the RCA Victor Lable. We have learned that Sony represents the RCA Victor Label, to whom we have submitted all information including the LP numbers from where are the songs we are interested in. No answer up to date.

  • Susan Berg

    What's happening is that venues and promoters won't take responsibility and try to pass it down to me via their contract that I need to sign. I called ascap, bmi and was told they don't issue licenses to artists, just venues and promoters. So when doing those gigs, I only perform originals, but I'd like to be able to sing some covers, particularly songs that I paid mechanical licenses for and recorded on my CDs. These venues include county recreation departments, outdoor shopping centers, malls, etc.

  • kris

    yes i'd like to know as well about the music on a cover song?
    how do i know where the track came from? also can i just re-record the track myself and i own the master license on that?

    thanks

  • Greg

    So what about cover song recordings for "online listening" like cdbaby's artist radio or reverb nation or just posting on Facebook? If you're not selling the song but using it to promote your hard-working local cover band, do you really still need a mechanical license? What if you just do a 30 second song sample to let folks hear your band to decide if they want to hire you?

  • Justin

    What about public domain songs? Specifically, what if an artist wishes to record some Classical music to sell and this Classical music is Public Domain. Also, if mechanical licenses have already been negotiated and granted before registering with CD Baby/Limelight for songs that require a mechanical license, how does that effect registering the album with CD Baby?

  • Chris R. at CD Baby

    Hey Justin,
    Compositions in the public domain do not require that you get any kind of license to sell them. (As long as you're doing your own arrangement or performing the customary/scored version). You WOULD need a license to perform a copyrighted arrangement of a public domain tune. As for mechanicals you've already negotiated, those will cover you for the amount of sales listed in the agreement, no matter where you're selling your music. However, keep in mind that there are different licenses for physical album sales and download sales. Be sure that you're covered for both if you're selling music in both formats.

  • Cole Gove

    Hi,
    I recorded a cover song before I did this I got a mechanical license to do so. I am interested in putting this cover song on Pandora. Is there another type of license that is needed to do this?

    I have read that I need to do the following "…you own or control the public performance rights for those songs and recordings or you have received permission from the owner of the songs and/or recordings to allow us to webcast them, subject to our payment of customary public performance fees for the recordings and the songs."

    Is there a webcast license that is needed above and beyond the mechanical license?

  • Nancy Ricketts

    How old does a cover song have to be to be public domain? What exactly does the term public domain mean?

    • Chris R. at CD Baby

      1923 or earlier. Public domain means that the particular piece of intellectual property has passed out of the period where it is protected by copyright. It now belongs to the public.

  • Mike V

    I want to sample Metallica, but obviously, they are totally not into it. Anyways, would I be able to get around that by buying a mechanical license, hire musicians to cover the song and THEN sample it?

  • Chris R. at CD Baby

    Nope. Sampling without authorization is, obviously, a violation of copyright (against the entity that owns the master recording). If you recorded your own version and sampled that into a new composition, you'd be creating what is called a "derivative work," which requires you get permission from the publisher of the composition. So either way, best to get permission.

  • What if we are recording our own original song, but ending the song with a chorus from another song, like Bob Marley's "ONE LOVE" … so it's our original song; we just end it with another artist's song (that we play all the instruments, so it's not a sample) …

    what kind of license would we need for that???

    • Chris R. at CD Baby

      Well, I'm not a lawyer, but it sounds like you're recording a "derivative work." This is a work that uses elements of a cover song, but twists them into something new. The good news is… people love these. The bad news is… the publisher does NOT have to grant you permission to use their work. You need to run it by them. Then they can negotiate with you or simply tell you "Sorry, bub." Check out Passman's Everything You Need to Know About the Music Biz book for details.

  • I intended to write you one little bit of observation so as to give many thanks over again for these pleasant things you've shared in this article.

  • Scott

    I don’t think Greg’s question got answered, about cover songs posted on a website. I have the same question, and likewise I wonder whether it matters whether it’s a 20-30 second sample or the entire cut.

  • Last I heard, you still needed to pay mechanical royalties for "free" cover songs because that publisher/composer's song is helping your career. So, in some way, you intend to use their copyrighted material to either make money, boost your brand/band recognition, or increase web traffic.

  • But to be sure about any of this stuff, I'd recommend consulting an entertainment attorney, or the people at Limelight or Harry Fox.

  • the base music and its arrangement on filk songs (songs that just change a few of the words for a whole new, usually funny, song) is the same so standard licenses should cover that as if it were a cover song BUT ON TOP OF THAT you need writer's permission to add verses OR alter original verses, even slightly

  • Hello Chris R at CD Baby – your comment: "Public domain means that the particular piece of intellectual property has passed out of the period where it is protected by copyright, 1923 or earlier, It now belongs to the public" –

    Regarding the year "1923 or earlier" doesn't always apply and here's why:

    * Some songs written before the copyright law was passed in 1924 still qualify as a cover song and needs licensing to the publisher. Cautionary advice here is to carefully research all traditional music!

    Examples of well known 'public domain' songs which actually need licensing:
    *The Lion Sleeps Tonight" – Distributed by Disney company in The Lion King movie. However Disney was sued for using this 'public domain' song which was in fact copyrighted.

    *'You Made Me Love You' – written in the early 1900's well before 1923 still needs licensing – some songs have copyright protection secured well beyond 1923.

    *'Unchained Melody' was recorded and distributed as public domain until the publisher finally secured the copyright in the early 1980's.

    *Although JS Bach's music is 'public domain', it still needs protection if you use the versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Neil Sedaka and many others.

    *It's Now Or Never (O Solo Mio) and 'Can't Help Falling In Love' (French traditional melody) are both public domain songs but only when the titles are changed with new words.

    *'House Of The Rising Sun' is public Domain – but not when using someone else's arrangement such as the popular Animal's version.

    I've stepped into the 'before 1923' trap many times and learned a painful lesson – Do your homework by researching all 'public domain', songs even the 'safe ones'! A song such as 'Aura Lee' (written in the 1700's) is a true public domain song – but not if used as 'Love Me Tender'

  • The Hurricane

    When you record a cover song, do you need to copyright the Sound Recording? I know you need to get licensing to sell it (mech and digi) but do you need to do anything regarding the actual sound recording of the cover? thanks!

  • Well, like any art that is set in fixed form, it's technically copyrighted automatically. BUT… you still should register that copyright with the Library of Congress. That gives you assurances of certain basic protections if the copyright is ever violated. If you don't register it, you're on your own in court to prove that the copyright was yours at an earlier date than the person you'd be suing.

    • Benonez

      So, can I prove my case by providing the raw audio files, editing files (Pro-Tools, Logic…) and mastering services in court? Does that work?

  • CHRIS, I HAVE A LIBRARY OF 80 GIGS OF ASSORTED GENRE ROCK, CLASSICAL, BLUES, JAZZ, REGGAE, ETC., SOME FROM THE 40’S TO PRESENT DAY. I BELIEVE IT IS A VALUABLE COLLECTION THAT I WOULD LIKE TO MARKET ON THE INTERNET. TOTAL NEWBIE HERE. I THOUGHT ABOUT PRESENTING THE COMPLETE LIST ON MY WEBSITE http://WWW.KEEPRAWMEATFRESHFOREVER.COM OR ANOTHER WEBSITE TO SHOW ANYONE WHAT IS INCLUDED IN A 2 HOUR 15 MINUTE DOWNLOAD FOR NEARLY 16,000 SONGS IN 1,028 ALBUMS AND SIMPLY ASK ONE QUESTION OF MY VIEWERS…………WOULD YOU PAY $300 BUCKAROOS FOR THIS COMPLETE LIBRARY ? YES OR NO ? SINCE I HAVE UNLIMITED WEB HOSTING FOR LIFE WITH BRAINHOST FOR UNLIMITED WEBSITES, I ONLY HAVE TO PAY FOR A DOMAIN NAME.
    CAN I PURCHASE SOME KIND OF SELLERS PERMIT TO SELL COPYRIGHTED SONGS, I HEARD THERE WAS AN OUTFIT WHO COULD RELEASE ME FROM ALL THE DIFFERENT LABELS WITH ONE SIMPLE CONTRACT. YES, NO, MAYBE ?
    TELL ME I NEED TO KNOW IF I’M WASTING MY TIME EVEN CONSIDERING SUCH A PROJECT THAT I FEEL WOULD GAIN ME THE MARKETING ABILITY TO SELL THIS AS MY OWN PRODUCT… JUST SETTIN’ HERE WITH BRAIDED BETH AWAITING YOUR REPLY……..BAITED BREATH………… RON 707 601 8940 OR RSPREDPIT@GMAIL.COM……..

  • I would definitely recommend getting your catalog listing with a licensing agency (or in CD Baby's sync licensing program) so it would be available for licensing.

  • Joshmihaly

    I have a friend who did a cover of a song completely on violin while also mixing in some of his own music. He said I can use the music in a movie I am producing but I am wondering if I can do so without a copyright since it’s also a mixture of his music and no lyrics are involved.

  • Is it a mixture of his own music with YOUR music? Or is it a mixture of his own music with someone else's music? If the first, and if you two are the only copyright/publishing parties involved… then you're free to arrange whatever deal you like. If the later, there are two issues that'd need to be address: 1) by adding his own music to an existing composition, your friend created what is called a "derivative work" and needs to get permission from the publisher for such a beast to legally exist. 2) You'd need to get the permission of, and pay, the publisher of that original composition.

  • Treyjk

    So if i record lyrics of my own over a piece of rjd2- ghostwriter i still have to pay the derivative liscence?

  • Well, are you talking about adding your own part to an existing composition? Or using a sample of an existing recording? Or both? They're separate issues… one being the derivative work, the other being usage of a sample, and there are separate fees and negotiations for both. (And in both cases the copyright holder can say no for any reason).

  • Well, if you've enlisted an outside mastering service that can verify working on a certain file on a specific date, that'd help when building a case in court.

  • Evil Liberal

    Christopher,
    We recorded an album with 6 cover songs. We obtained the correct licenses to do so before proceeding.
    We will copyright the recording with the copyright office. The question that has come up is this:
    The recordings our group did are new arrangements of the original works, so does that make them a derivative work? Can the new arrangement by the artists be protected? Thank you 🙂

    http://www.billiedavies.com

  • That is a gray area, I believe. I'd advise consulting an entertainment law expert on that. I think if the arrangement strays to far from the original, the composer/publisher can view it as a derivative work, in which case you'd need their permission to record/sell it. But then again, many cover songs take a unique approach, and are legal under a simple mechanical license. So… best to consult the experts.

  • Guest

    Christopher,
    I am doing a violin cover of a song. What I plan to do for the recording is download the karaoke version and play the vocal line instrumentally. I do not plan to sell it; just post it on a video website. What kind of license, if any, do I need to legally do this?

  • Honestly, I'd consult with an entertainment attorney on that one, because you're mixing the sync world with the sampling world (in that you're using pre-exisiting tracks that would need to be cleared). Might get a little complicated.

  • cicuta

    What you mention in the article is OK for composers in the USA; however, music copyrights are not international and especially if the tunes and lyrics are in the public domain. A good example is the classics from Europe from the 1800s; people can play and rearrange their music in any part of the globe as they are in the public domain. Also, most music from Latin American countries are in the public domain and can be used by anyone in the USA as those tunes are from other countries and not subject to USA music laws…The USA does not own the world yet!

  • Robert

    I just recorded a live gig with my cover band, and I'd like to post a song on our facebook page for promotional purposes, not for sale obviously since we don't own the copyright. What's the best, cheapest way to do that legally?

  • jodyg

    Ok so let me see if I understand, I want to use a song in a slide show for my son’s highschool band as a memory slide show of their performances. I want to add a particular song, keeping the origional music, but changing the lyrics to suit the marching band and their accomplishments. Some parts the words (like 2 or 3 words at most) will stay the same. I would charge a fee to parents who want a copy but all it cwould cover is the cost of the DVDs, cases and printing of the cover insert, I would not make any money off of the sale of each DVD. To do this I need standard licenses to cover it as if it were a cover song BUT ON TOP OF THAT I’d need writer’s permission to add verses OR alter original verses. How do I get these licenses?
    Thanks…

  • You WOULD need permission from the publisher/writer to alter their work. If they agree, you work out a royalty split with them. But I'm pretty sure you do NOT need to pay a mechanical license, as this is no longer a "cover song" but a derivative work. Hopefully we'll get the legal experts to weigh in here for certainty.

  • Technically, yes.

  • Rodgpodg

    At my church, we are wanting to record our younger kids singing with background tracks. We want to just give them the cds and not sell them. Would we need to get a Master and Mechanical license for that?

  • Anonymous

    If I wanted to write copyrighted song lyrics on t-shirts or shoes or posters and sell them online, would I need a license for that?

    • I'll leave it to the legal experts to say exactly—but you definitely need SOME kind of permission/license from them. Not a mechanical license, I don't think, since you're not reproducing a cover song, though.

  • Vlado

    What about performing a cover song in Second life, live, not as a record?

    • Oooh. Great question. Well, if it was a REAL venue—the venue would be paying (or should be paying) their PRO fees, thus covering you for the covers you've performed in their place. But online venues… I think my mind just exploded. Hopefully the legal experts can weigh in here to help us out.

  • calizardo

    If I translate and write a song from english to spanish, what’s the right procedure to follow?

  • I believe that a translation still counts as a cover song (as opposed to a derivative work), but you should consult with an entertainment attorney to be sure. If that is correct, then you just have to go through Limelight or Harry Fox to secure the mechanical license for the cover song.

  • leigh1606

    I am in the uk and am looking into covering a song for charity. Any advice on how i go about this? Any advice would be great thanks 🙂

  • I would start here: http://members.cdbaby.com/license-cover-song.aspx

    They'll be able to tell you what you should do, specific to living in the UK.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Lisa Iwanyszyn

    I wasn’t aware I needed a license to record a cover song. I just want to make it because I like the song not to make any money off of it

  • Yep. Definitely need a license. Even if you're giving the song away.

    @ChrisRobley

  • OffbeatBryce

    Quick question. I’m told by Limelight and Harry Fox that if one covers a song in a different style they need permission first because it’s derivative. However what does different style mean? For example there is A godsmack cover of the Beatles song Come Together which is heavy rock sounds almost the same except they add in a few riffs and a guitar solo is that derivative? I’ve tried asking music publishers but they refuse to tell me what derivative means as far as changing a style. I’ve also heard a dubstep song covered on an acoustic guitar.

  • Well, it's case-by-case, of course — but I'd say, in general, you're fine as long as the chords, melody, and lyrics stay the same. Slight arrangement changes, tempo changes, key-changes, extra riffs, etc. All that stuff is fine. It's a derivative work if you start turning it into a different composition.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Juven

    A producer plays a melody in a beat. The melody is from a riff. How do you copyright your song with the riff after you record your vocals on top of it

  • So, is it someone else's riff? Like — sampled from someone else's recording? Or did the producer play the riff, but it's based on someone else's music? Let us know and hopefully the author can weigh in with some legal wisdom.

    My take on it is that either way, you're going to have to get in contact with the composer/publisher of the song you borrowed the riff from, and you're going to have to pay them. Also, if you sampled the recording, you'll have to talk to the label who owns the master recording. All 3 of those parties can prevent you from using the riff in your own music — but it's worth a try! They might say yes.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Liese Ho

    Hi Christopher,
    I have done some satb arrangements for my acapella choir. Can I make them legally sellable as digital downloads from a personal website?
    Thanks for your time and obvious passion!

  • Who composed the music? What year was it written? If it's "public domain" — meaning the copyright has expired, or it was written before 1923 — then you can sell your own arrangements of those tunes on your site. If it's music composed SINCE 1923, you'll probably need to secure a mechanical license in order sell those tracks.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Julia Crane

    Hey Christopher,
    I am using a song for a pageant talent, the song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen is licensed by ASCAP, but I am using this song sung by a different artist. “Hallelujah” isn’t licensed under the other artist but other songs the artist performs are. Does this mean I have to get the version of “Hallelujah” sung by this artist licensed?
    Thanks for your time!

  • Dylan

    Christopher, I am making an original hip hop song in which the beat includes a subtle sample of a little-known bob marley song… the lyrics are all original, but I reference the samples lyrics at one point in the song… If I buy a mechanical license from, say, Harry Fox, will I be covered?
    Thanks.

  • Hey Dylan,

    Unfortunately, no. There's two things that are happening in your song that require some additional work. First, the sample itself. You need to clear that with the owner of the sound recording (most likely Marley's label at the time, or whoever owns the catalog now). They can set whatever fee they want for you to legally use a sample from their recording, or just say no. Second, you'd need to get permission from the publisher of that Marley tune in order to use some of his lyrics in your own song, because suddenly you've gone from it being a straight cover song to what they call a "derivative work." Similar to a sample, they can either say yes and set the fee, or say no.

    Hope that helps. Let us know what happens.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Is it the Jeff Buckley version? Just curious. I'm not actually sure what needs to happen in terms of playing a song at a pageant, whether it's considered only a public performance where royalties would flow from the venue, to ASCAP, and back to Leonard Cohen (even if it's not his version) — or if you'd need a license to use that music in relation to your stage production (talent pageant). Is it just a one-time thing? If it's a situation where you'd need a license, you'd end up paying BOTH the publisher/writer (Cohen) and the owner of the sound recording (the label of… Jeff Buckley? Rufus Wainwright? Whoever performs the tune). Sorry I can't be more specific, but I'm no entertainment lawyer!

    @ChrisRobley

  • Yes. MAYBE not for a few of those 20's tunes (if they're in the public domain). But for any song that isn't in the public domain, you need a license to sell recordings of cover songs.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Erin

    Christopher,
    I sing a lot of cover songs, but they’re all from the 20s to the 60s. For the songwriters and artists who are dead, do I need to obtain a license?

  • Hey Christopher! I want to cover/perform the song I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) at a large festival. They say that I must get the proper licensing if I want to perform any covers, as they will not provide this. What type of license do I need to get? And how? HFA said I had to go to ASCAP, BMI, etc. to get the proper license, which is not a mechanical license? I found the song listed with ASCAP of which I am also a member, but not clear how to move forward. Any help appreciated. Thank you!

  • Hey Vixen,

    You wouldn't need a mechanical license to perform a song at a festival — unless, of course, you or the promoters recorded the performance and then wanted to sell the live recording. Otherwise, your performance would be a general public performance, the royalty for which is paid by a P.R.O. like ASCAP or BMI to the songwriter/publisher. In terms of legality, I'm actually not familiar with how festivals usually work the whole P.R.O. fee thing. Since it's probably a one-time event, I'm sure they'd like to avoid paying any fees — and want to put the responsibility on the artists to pay any necessary performance royalties. BUT… what about the fact that many of the performers who play original music are also represented by ASCAP and BMI — and thus owed performance royalties for their own music? Are they expected to pay themselves? Waive the flow-through of the fee/royalty altogether? Or should the venue/festival be paying a fee to the P.R.O.s? I'm not sure of the answer. I'd suggest you send an email to the festival asking for clarification of the process. As a second option, send an email to ASCAP and explain the situation, asking for clarity.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Oh, and if you think of it — will you let me know what you find out? I'd love to know some more details about festivals and P.R.O. fees/performance royalties.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Nick Pesci

    Hi Chris,

    My friend and I made a parody of a song using the original music in its entirety but changing the lyrics completely. I was wondering if we need to obtain permission and/or a license to share it. Thanks.

    • You definitely need permission, as it's not technically a cover song. You've created what is known as a "derivative work," and to sell that legally, you need to reach an agreement with the publisher. Unless, of course, you want to argue that parodies fall under "Fair Use." But… I wouldn't want that headache. Easier to just get permission upfront.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Falcon Sang

    Hey Chris,

    How long before songs are in the public domain? And what’s the renewing capabilities of music. I’m familiar with film copyrights but I assume music is at least slightly different.

    Thank you kindly,
    Falcon

  • Ify okeke

    hello christopher,
    I have some songs i believe fall under “derivative work”. Do you have any advise on how one can go about getting permission from the publisher? do you advise i get a lawyer to do this(pretty expensive) or is it possible for me to get this permission myself. Ive found the address of the publisher on ASCAP. i just need to know how to proceed. how do i negotiate? Tips on how to present my request? thanks for your help.

  • That's something I've never done myself, so honestly, I'm not sure what the best approach is. Part of me thinks that by getting a lawyer to present the request, you'd be setting off some alarms on the part of the publisher — and that it might be better to just approach them yourself, professionally but friendly. That being said, maybe the best course of action is to consult an IP attorney first, just to make sure you're approaching the publisher with the most chance of them saying YES. As for negotiation, that's definitely a question for a lawyer, because the publisher technically has the right to ask for nearly any terms if they do grant you permission.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Breya Nicole

    Hi Christopher,
    I am an aspiring artist but I do not write songs. So for my first demo cd I wanted to record a couple cover songs. But I only plan to make a couple copies of the cd because I only intend to give them to venues and artist managers. So where can I go to get a mechanical license for a smaller amount of copies? Everywhere I have been requires a minimum of 25. Do I need a license if it is less than 25 copies?

  • Legally speaking, yes. You'd need a license for any duplicated/replicated/digital copies — even if you give them away. But I'll bet once your recording is made, you'll quickly go through 25 copies between bookers, promoters, radio, friends, fans, family, etc. I'd recommend getting the minimum and covering your bases.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Hey Falcon,

    Here's what I found online at this site: http://www.life123.com/career-money/business-law/

    Works created before 1923 are public domain.
    Works created between 1923 and 1964 are protected for 28 years. Copyright holders can renew copyrights for an additional 67 years, but, if they don't renew, copyright protection lasts for only 28 years.
    Works created between 1964 and 1977 are copyright protected for 28 years, but the 67-year renewal is automatic, for a total of 95 years of copyright protection. The earliest works under this category are in the public domain starting in 2059.
    Works created after January 1, 1978, are protected for the life of the creator plus 70 years.

    Keep in mind that this is just for the composition. For sound recordings, it's a whole different ballgame.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Falcon Sang

      Thanks Chris!! I did some more digging around and saw the ballgame you were referring to. So many technicalities!

      Thank you again!

  • Janet Swasey

    Hi Christopher…We are doing a project, where it is almost completely original lyrics and melodies. However. we have occasional, spontaneous “scat parts”. Example. Male lead singing all original lyrics to his own original composition, but female background, chimes in with “do you fear what I fear” to the tune of “Do You Hear What I Hear” repeatedly. What do we need to do, if anything? This is being done as CD which will ultimately be for sale. What is the exact note count, per se, for something like this? THANKS SO MUCH, IN ADVANCE!!!

    –janet

  • Hi Janet,

    I would actually recommend you consult an IP attorney, because I'm not sure. I would assume that if you're quoting and then changing something recognizable (which is not yet in the Public Domain), that you'd need to get permission of some kind from the publisher. Not sure if it'd end up as a co-write, or a derivative work, or what. Let me know what you find out.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Fermin Martinez

      This article is correct you need to obtain a mechanical license AND A Performance Rights License-(for example if your playing it live you’ll need this)This article is a sham however because its just pushing limelight when you can go to the real one that professional musicians use like the Harry Fox Agency or ASCAP or BMI their called Performance Rights Organizations (PRO)

  • signe
  • OffbeatBryce

    Here's a new question, What if I wanted to keep the lyrics but only once or twice change how it's sung? For example, cut out a whole verse, Replace a chorus from the end of the song and sing it at the beginning?

    • It's a gray area. Tough to say whether those changes would be protected as part of the arrangement, or if they'd constitute a derivative work. Best to consult a lawyer or ask the publisher.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Cedric C

    Hi Christopher,

    I am recording an album at the moment bearing 13 titles. They are all covers.

    Most of the songs were composed more than 40 years ago and some of the artists and compositors already passed away. For ex. Georgia on my mind by Ray Charles or Summertime by George Gershwin. My question is: Do i need a license to cover those songs? If yes please tell me what are the procedures. Thanks in advance for your help.

    Cédric

  • Yes. You would need a mechanical license to distribute almost any song written after 1923. I would check out http://members.cdbaby.com/license-cover-song.aspx and http://www.harryfox.com/ for details and instructions on securing licenses.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Cedric C

      k! Thanks for your help.

      Cheers.
      Ced

  • JGMc

    Hi Christopher, my American-based band would like to record an album of German-language pop songs from the late 50s/early 60s — some composed originally in German and others German-language remakes of American songs. Do I need a license for this, and from whom?

    On a side note, I gave Limelight a spin by plugging a fake song title with a fake author into its search engine, and out popped a $60 charge. How do we know if a song is even covered by copyright if Limelight automatically charges you for a made-up title?

    Love the column, cheers.

    John

  • Hey John,

    That's odd about Limelight. Not sure why that would happen. Feel free to contact them, or check out Harry Fox Agency as an alternative. Also, I'm not an expert at international copyright law, but I would assume you'd still need to license those German tunes. If you contact Limelight or Harry Fox, they may be able to answer that question for you pretty quickly.

    @ChrisRobley

  • JB

    Hello, If i get a classical composition of a piano song from the 1800's and get the midi file of the song and load that midi file into a digital piano then sample the sound, does that mean i can use that sample free an clear since the song is in the public domain and also was played by my own piano? thanks !

    • I'm pretty sure you're ok there. Though you might want to read the fine print from the place where you got the MIDI file.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Brigs Superpunkmuffin

    What are the rules on parodies? There’s a lot of conflicting information, particularly in America, where it is often said you have a right to parody something without asking permission as it is an element of free speech,
    Cheers, Brigs, & all us Super Punk Muffins 🙂

  • That becomes very gray when you profit off of a parody. It's easier to claim Fair Use protection when you're using someone else's work as part of a news story or academic paper or something like that. But… a musical parody that you stand to make money from — that's probably going to fall into the category of "derivative work," which the original writers and publishers will have veto power over (and will be co-owners of, if they decide to grant you the right to distribute that work).

    @ChrisRobley

  • David G

    Hi Christopher, my friend used lyrics from the original song and changed melody, he did it by himself without any copy-paste things.. In melody theres a few sounds, beats which sounds like in original, but he made it by himself. So he wants upload it on itunes, youtube (vevo) etc.. so what exactly, which licence he need for it ? :/ its Toxic by Britney Spears

  • Well, if he used lyrics but changed the melody, he technically can’t do ANYTHING (selling, streaming, YouTube upload, etc.) until he gets permission from the song’s publisher/s. That’s because this is not a straight cover song. It’s a “derivative work,” which is not protected under any compulsory agreements/rights/licenses. He need the publisher’s permission, and THEN they can negotiate rates for publishing splits, sync fees, etc.

    @ Chris Robley

    • David Gogokhia

      what about “Limelight” ?

  • Well, he COULD use a service like Limelight to acquire a standard mechanical license to sell a cover song, IF it were a cover song. But in this case, it’s not considered a cover song, but a derivative work. It’d require direct negotiations with the publisher/songwriter in order to legally distribute that track.

    @ Chris Robley

  • T Good

    Hi Christopher,
    Let me first say that I am not in the music business. I have a website in which I sell tshirts. If I were to sell a shirt that said “amazing grace” on it and wanted the song Amazing Grace to play in the background, would I need a license? The version would be sung by my daughter and simply used as background music. Would the song be looked at as generating revenue since the words on it match the chorus and therefore require a performance license?

    • Amazing Grace (as long as you’re talking about the popular hymn) is in the public domain. If you funded the recording and it was your daughter singing, you wouldn’t owe anyone any royalties. You’d own the mater recording, and the composition itself is — as I said above — in the public domain, so no publishing royalties are at play.

      @ Chris Robley

  • CSR

    LMAO… this must have been a joke.

  • Mariam Hefny

    Hi Christopher,

    I recorded a song that was written by me – original – but I used a melody that was uploaded by a latin artist on youtube. Is it okay to use this song for streaming (youtube, local radio channels, etc.). Im not getting paid for any of this. P.S I’m in Egypt, we dont have any clear copyright laws.

    Thanks,
    Mariam

  • Kevin Fitzpatrick

    Hi, I am in Alberta Canada… I play guitar and sing, and want to do cover songs of various artists(Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, etc..) Do I need a licence to upload these on youtube and where and what would I get???

  • YouTube is still a fairly gray area when it comes to uploading videos of cover songs. Some publishers/writers don’t care, or are even happy to have the cover versions out there. Others get pretty snippy. I’d say it’s best to consult an entertainment attorney.

    @ Chris Robley

  • Mariam,

    I’m not sure how it’d work in terms of international copyright stuff, but just in terms of putting it on YouTube, I’d advise getting the permission of the person from whom you borrowed the melody.

    If you based a song of your own on an existing composition, you’ve technically created a “derivative work” — and in order to distribute that, you’d need the permission of the writer/publisher.

    @ Chris Robley

  • Noah Auger

    Hi Chris, I plan on using a song or two as background music in a video I am creating and then distributing to one person as a gift. I bought the songs through ITunes and the only part of the video that wouldn’t be mine would be the songs. Would I still need to get a license to give this CD as a gift?

  • Well, technically yes. You’d need to get a sync license to play someone else’s music in your video. But if only one person is ever going to see the video, and you have no plans for distributing it or uploading to YouTube or whatever,…

    @ Chris Robley

    • Noah Auger

      Ok, thank you. I will see what I can do in obtaining sync rights.

  • Candace

    Hi. Is a licence or some other type of written permission required to use the melody of a song, but not the words or the composition (in the US)? Thanks.

  • Like, an instrumental version of a song? I’m almost certain you can do an instrumental arrangement of a cover song with the standard compulsory mechanical license.

    @ Chris Robley

  • Hello Christopher!

    My name is Brian. I have written a song, and it’s only sample is a segment of the well-known “Im Nin’ Alu” by Ofra Haza. Sadly, she passed away in 2000. I’m trying to find out, how much it would cost, and how I would go about obtaining permission to use the little snippet of this track in my work, and not having much luck finding answers. It really rounds out the song, due to the track’s title, and the sound of her voice. Instead of trying to track down someone who sounds like her to have me record my own take on this timeless classic, or trying replace it with some other sound (probably my own voice), I’d really love to know how proceed, as well as how to obtain proper permission. I’ve sent email on the one website I’ve been able to find, and haven’t gotten an answer.

    Sincerely,
    Brian.

    • For samples, you need the permission of the owner of the sound recording (as well as the writer/publisher). I’d probably start by approaching the label that released the song, as they’re most likely still the owner of the recording. You can negotiate from there, and hopefully they can help put you in touch with the publisher too.

      @ Chris Robley

      • Thanks Christopher! I’ll see if I can contact them!

  • Toto Kaluza

    Hi Christopher,
    first thanks for all your good advices. Very helpful.
    My band and I are based in Spain and Germany and we are currently
    recording a cd with 2 original songs, 3 songs where we have to pay
    royalties and 7 songs … we think … are Public Domain. The whole
    licensing stuff is quite confusing tbh and I was wondering if there is a
    company/organization that can find out for us if songs are really
    Public Domain. Also, do you know how to find out who is the real
    songwriter of a song that we have to give credit for?

    Thanks alot for your time.
    Sincerly,
    Toto

    • Not sure I have any new suggestions. You’ve probably already tried these, but search the databases (or contact the companies directly) of: Harry Fox Agency, Rightsflow/Limelight, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, Library of Congress, etc. You might also hire an entertainment attorney to help with the research. If you can’t track down the copyright/publisher info for those songs you assume to be public domain, and you’ve done everything you can to find them, you could (and this is NOT legal advice, so don’t hate me if it backfires ; ) set aside the standard mechanical royalty payment for each one of those tracks that you sell digitally or that you print on discs. Then if someone ever comes calling, you can say “hey, I’ve got your money right here. I really did try to find you.”

      @ Chris Robley

  • OneMorePage

    Hi. I want to use the title of a song in a piece of writing that will get published. What would happen if I just used the title, but no sound recording or anything?

  • I’m not a lawyer, so take this with a grain of salt, but I’m almost certain that’d be fine. You can’t copyright song titles, so simply referencing the title should be permissible.

    @ Chris Robley

  • luca casavola

    Hi!
    My wife is a singer from egypt.
    She has collected traditional songs from villages in egypt rearranged and presented in many festival around the world.
    We are now making an account on cdbaby to sell her cd.
    If I put “public domain” in composition type, they ask me for the name of the songwriter, but there is no songwriter known, it’s just traditional old songs.
    On the other hand she is not the composer as she didn’t write the lyrics.
    So an arrangement of traditional music from unknown author is it considered public domain or

    original composition?
    thans

  • Hey Christopher, I am wanting to do demo cd’s for people to use for gifts to others or as vocal demos. Not for resale or mass production. Can I use karaoke tracks? and do I need two permissions/ One from the actual producer and one from the karaoke version?

  • Hi Luca,

    You can put “Traditional” for the composer and “Public Domain” for the publisher info. Your wife would obviously own the copyright to the sound recording, but that section of the CD Baby signup process is just concerned with composer/publisher info. So yes, “Traditional/Public Domain.”

    @ Chris Robley

    • luca casavola

      Thanks!

  • luca casavola

    Hi Christopher.
    I have a question about monetizing on youtube of a song.
    This song, recorded in studio, is registered and monetized in youtube through a cdbaby licence.
    Someone during a concert recorded and put on youtube a live version of this song.
    Can cdbaby recognise that is the same song recorded in the studio?
    If the answer is not, it means that the only way to monetize it is to put the live version on CDbaby, right?
    Thanks a lot

  • Hi there,

    Yes. That’s correct. YouTube is looking for sonic fingerprint matches. But I’m assuming the live version will differ enough in the performance/production that YouTube will not be able to ID it based on audio. If you distribute the live version through us, then we can definitely make sure they track it across YouTube and pay you ad revenue.

    @ Chris Robley

    • luca casavola

      Thank you!
      Is there a way to suggest cdbaby that a live song is related to a song in the album? (I have a song for example (not in my channel) that has more than 1000 views a day.

      And I have another question.
      I tried to put songs of my cd on my channel. Youtube says that I cannot monetize
      it because the owner of the rights are CDBABY and Yayamusic.
      I don’t know who is this website Yayamusic and of course they don’t have the rights on my music.
      What does this means? That the ad revenues are now shared between CD Baby and Yayamusic?
      How to stop them?
      If I try to claim the rights on the songs I am obliged to do it against both Cdbaby and Yayamusic.
      How to get rid of this company?
      Thanks you

  • Hi there,

    There’s a way to get that straightened out so you can monetize music uploaded directly to your channel. Write to cdbaby@cdbaby.com with the details and we can help you out.

    @ Chris Robley

  • Roy

    I purchased advanced royalties for 5000+ cover tracks from a major karaoke creator to sell karaoke downloads.

    I understand that due to the lyrics video portion of karaoke I will need to make an agreement with the publisher of each song for the sync license. This is neither easy or inexpensive.

    But what if i sold only the instrumental cover track as an mp3 download..
    i would still pay the disc manufacturer their royalties per song.
    All of these master tracks are reproduced by cover bands and owned by the disc mfg.
    If i sell instrumentals without lyrics made by cover bands
    would i need any other licensing if i have no public performance and no lyrics?

  • Tris

    Hi. So I’m just a little bit confused with all this license thing, because of the fact that I’m from outside the U.S. After my long researches, I noticed that most of them say that getting a license is required in the U.S., and some even say that I don’t literally need a license as long as I am outside the U.S., though I’m just not so sure about that.

    So as a person NOT from the U.S. who want to cover music on YouTube intended not for commercial use, do I need any kind of license, i.e., a mechanical license or even a synchronization license?

    Thanks.

  • Hi Roy,

    When it gets into karaoke tracks, I’m not sure how the licensing and mechanicals work as far as the tune being a “cover song.” I’d suggest talking with a lawyer that knows about music law and IP.

    @ChrisRobley

  • The short answer is… I don’t know. Sorry. But YouTube is such a gray area still in terms of copyright, and I don’t know how the laws differ from country to country. There are some instances where users upload videos with cover songs, and because it’s titled accurately with the artist name and song title, YouTube is able to serve up an advertisement on the video and pay a share of that to the copyright owner. Then I’ve heard of other cases where an artist has YouTube pull all unauthorized cover versions of their songs. So, you could certainly take the chance and just upload it and see what happens (though that ain’t legal advice). Perhaps a better solution is to consult with an attorney — or to contact the publisher of the song directly and see how they feel about it. Worst they can say is ‘no.’

    @ChrisRobley

  • James

    Hi, I’m from Brazil and I wanna make a parody of What does the fox say? (Ylvis). I’ll post on YouTube and I intend to monetize the video. Can you help me where I buy the instrumental version with commercial use??

    thanks, sorry for the bad english

  • If you want to create a parody (“derivative work”), you need to consult directly with the publisher/writers and get their permission. If they grant it, the two of you will work out the payment details.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Nightworker

    Quick question, if I use an instrumental and add lyrics on it for an album, is that a derivative use, or is it a cover?

  • Reader101

    Hi there,
    I play piano for an elementary school choir and we would like to record a CD of the choir singing songs (copyrighted), and then sell the CD’s as a fundraiser for our school. This would not use pre-recorded accompaniment, just our own music & singing. The CD’s would only be sold within our community, not to the general public. Also, our school is a non-profit organisation, and all proceeds from the sale of the CD’s would be going towards the school, not paying the musicians or their families. First, would we need a license to use the music in this way? Second, how would one go about getting such a license, and what can we expect the costs of licensing to be?

  • Like, you’re adding your own lyrics to an instrumental song? That’d be a derivative work, and you’d need permission from the songwriter/publisher.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Kris Kalifornia

    What if I want to take a song from the Public Domain and sample a snippet of someone saying something and use it my own self-created song? Is that something that is okay?

    • If the song and the recording you’re sampling are both in the public domain, I think you’re safe, yes. Though I still recommend crediting the original writers if you know you they are. Like, say, Mozart,… or whoever wrote the music.

      @ChrisRobley

  • S4ke

    Hi, I have a question:
    I’ve made with a friend 2 covers (home studio – recorded) for the recruitment session of a superior school of music in Paris, I don’t want to earn any money from this, but i’d like to share it online with people, can I do it?

  • Olivia Page

    What about parodies of songs? Do we use a mechanical liscence? If we change the lyrics, he does that affect the composition?

  • Olivia Page

    What about parodies of songs? Do we use a mechanical liscence? If we change the lyrics, he does that affect the composition?

    • With parodies, it’s no longer considered a cover song. It’s then called a derivative work. You need the publisher and songwriter’s permission to distribute a derivative work.

      @ChrisRobley

      • Olivia Page

        Ok thanks. Do I ask for the same liscence? If not, which should I apply for?

        • You need to contact the publisher and songwriter and tell them that you’d like permission to record and distribute a derivative work. They’ll want to hear/see what you’re changing about the song. Then, IF they approve it, you’ll all be credited as co-writers and can negotiate publishing splits from there. (Though you’ll be negotiating with THEM, and they’ll ultimately have the power to say yes or no to anything).

          @ChrisRobley

          • MaryRose Varo

            Is there an easy way to contact them?
            Not able to find anything yet on web for song I’d like to do.
            Thanks for any help.
            GREAT ARTICLE

  • Technically, if you’re distributing it in any way (even for FREE), you owe a mechanical royalty to the writers/publishers.

    @ChrisRobley

    • S4ke

      Thank you for your answer!

  • You would still need to pay a mechanical royalty for all the cover songs being sold on your CD. How many discs are you going to press? Depending on the quantity, it might determine how you go about selling the songs legally. If you can get a license from Harry Fox, that’s easiest (but I think they still have quantity minimums). Otherwise, you can pay the publisher directly (and send them payments/reports monthly), but you’d have to send a letter of intent to them first.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Stacy Hess

    I want to record a Christmas Cd using standard Christmas songs and a couple that have been recorded by mulitple artists. How do I get the proper paperwork so that I don’t get sued?

  • I was looking at limelight and am wondering about quantity. I’ve made other CDs that were public domain and such so I’ve never needed mechanical licenses before. Lets just say that I want to record 10 ‘popular’ Christmas songs, and I buy the license at $15 each, what about the actual number of CDs that are printed? I usually make 1000. but even at 500, that makes for a huge payment! Do I pay for 500 physical units?? wow! Definitely rethinking this!! $585 is a lot of money!!

  • Derby

    I am working with an artist who wants to cover a dance track that was released in 2000. The issue is that this track was also a cover of an original 1976 recording. The 2000 release re-recorded the vocal as not to use the original sample, but all other parts were new. Assuming we make a brand new track (all parts including vocals) I am not sure what, if anything, we would have to clear. Presumably we still need to get a mechanical license for the 1976 version and not the 2000 cover. Please advise . Thanks, D

  • You might be able to get some publisher info from Harry Fox, ASCAP, or BMI.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Johanna

    I am a saxophonist who is interested in creating an educational site as well as posting sheet music to recent popular songs to further engage students in playing relatable music. Sheet music that I am interested in transcribing would be the lyrics to popular songs that students would be able to play along to on the saxophone. It would be a free site. I’m unclear as to whom I must contact and what licenses are required?? Thanks for your help.

  • Yes. If you’re pressing CDs, you have to pay for every disc that’s manufactured. So… yeah, that can add up if all 10 songs are still under copyright protection. 9.1 cents per song per album. So, 10 x 9.1 cents x 1000. It’s about $910, I think.

    @ChrisRobley

  • If I understand your description correctly, and the 2000 version didn’t differ drastically from the 1976 version in terms of melody, chords, etc. — then yes, you’d just need to get a mechanical license to cover the song.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Hey, I’m an american solo artist. I’m about to record my new album and it will be released on the week John Lennon passed. I recorded a revised version of his song Real Love as a tribute. The music is different chords and progressions and the lyrics have been mixed up a lot from many different versions he recorded in the 60’s and 70’s. Do i need a licence to release this?? It’s kinda far fetched from the orignal so i didn’t know. Thanks

    • This would be considered a derivative work and you would need the permission of the publisher in order to sell/distribute the song.

      @ChrisRobley

    • This would be considered a derivative work and you would need the permission of the publisher in order to sell/distribute the song.

      @ChrisRobley

      • Im selling or distributing it. I don’t own it. It was a simple cover for you tube. Everyone does it.

      • Im not**** selling it

      • sorry for the confusion

      • Thank you though i decided not to

  • Bridgette Pratt

    hi Chris i would like to use a copy righted song in a stage play. i also wanted to sell copies of the dvd, what type of license would i need?

    • Well, I’m not a lawyer, so I’d definitely recommend consulting with an IP/entertainment attorney before using the song in a play. I believe you’d have to get the permission directly from the publisher of the song and negotiate fees accordingly. As for putting it in the DVD of the stage play, you’d also have to talk to them about sync licensing rights.

      @ChrisRobley

  • You still need the same permissions even if you’re giving it away for free.

    @ChrisRobley

  • alex forselius

    My question is: Can I use the really old compositions by Bach such Air freely in my songs, since the composition is over 70 years old? I’m working on a ambient music projects where I will create stunning ambient soundscapes with melodies from known composition, in order to get more discovered.

  • As long as the piece of music you’re borrowing was composed before 1923, you should be fine.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Michelle Tillery

    Someone overseas in Poland is wanting to make 3 double CDs with songs chosen by Wojciech Mann, DJ of Polish Public Radio and they have chosen two songs that I have written and recorded. The songs are copyrighted. I have never been asked this before. Don’t know what to do! Get an attorney?

    • Manuel Camacho

      If I make a beat from an existing track. Who would I contact? It’s from another country.. heard it on soundcloud. I asked if I can use it but he never responded. And one more Question ifor I made a beat from another artist but I don’t know what the song is called or who the artist is? ? Can’t find source how do I go about getting that?

  • I think so, yes. You’ll want to consult with someone who can really look at the details of the contract, especially if those tracks are going to be widely distributed. For instance, you don’t want this compilation album to cause any double-distribution problems, where, say, iTunes in Europe is selling your tracks via CD Baby, and then suddenly the same tracks (on the Polish compilation) are being distributed by someone else. iTunes will just block your sales altogether until the dispute is settled as to who has the actual distribution rights.

    It could be a great opportunity, this comp CD, but you just want to be sure you’re not going to trip yourself up, or get ripped off in any way.

    @ChrisRobley

  • I’m recording an album focusing on a particular lyricist, while using the compositions of many different writers he worked with. One song was listed as 0% “Licensable on Songfile” on Harry Fox. Another was listed at 50% and a third wasn’t found at all. When I go to Limelight, it lets me add all three of them without any question. Will I need to verify that other information at some point or does Limelight take on that responsibility for me?

  • I’m actually not sure. My assumption is that if you’re legally paying ANY of the parties involved, it becomes the responsibility of the publisher who got paid to distribute royalties accordingly. BUT… that’s a big assumption I’m making. I’d suggest writing to Limelight to hear it from the source.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Alan E. Richardson

    so I have written lyrics to songs that are instrumental only. I want to produce a collaboration and create a demo either using my own musicians or using (which I prefer) the original music. everybody seems to approve of the collaboration. so what is my best alternative? thanks.

    • Let me see if I understand the details clearly. You want to take an existing recording of instrumental music composed by someone else, and then add your own lyrics to the piece, and then add a vocal track to the existing recording?

      You’d need a few permissions. First, you’d have to get the permission of the songwriters/publishers of the song, since you’d be creating something called a “derivative work,” which is within their power to control. If they say ok, and you agree on terms, then you need the permission of the owner of the sound recording (maybe a label, or the artist?) in order to use their existing tracks in your new version. If they say yes, and you agree on terms, go ahead and release the new version of the song and be sure to pay them what they’re owed!

      @ChrisRobley

  • Chuck Zapiec

    I want to cover Jimmy Buffett songs digitally using a female artist. What license should I get? z

  • If you’re going to record new versions of Jimmy Buffett songs you’d just need to get a mechanical license (for both physical CDs or albums, and for downloads).

    Check out Harry Fox Agency or Limelight for help securing those mechanical licenses.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Jagannath Radhakrishnan

    I am planning to add a song track to my video that I had done. The video is going to be used as a marketing promotional for a sport shop. How do I go about it?

  • Whose song is it? Can you contact them to get a license?

    @ChrisRobley

  • Vanessa Gonzales

    There is a reggae version of passenger’s song “let her go” by a jamaican artist. I dont believe he got permission or paid any mechanical license and I think this is not right especially when the cover version is horrible

  • Well, the writer/publisher can’t do anything about the quality of the cover songs, but they can certainly pursue legal remedy in order to collect mechanical royalties (and damages for the infringement).

    @ChrisRobley

  • ALfie Mella

    Hi there, may ask a question about covering songs?

    My band has decided to include in our album in progress our versions of the songs “Just like Heaven” by The Cure and “I Melt with You” by Modern English.

    Do you have an idea how much we should pay for each songs for covering it? And does the cost pertains to a per-CD basis? Like if we press 1000 copies of the songs, then would that amount to 1000 multiply the licensing or cover cost?

    Also would the licensing cost depend on the popularity or obscurity of the song being covered?

    Thank you.

  • The cost is the same regardless of the popularity of the song. It’s 9.1 cents per song per unit sold. When you purchase mechanical licenses for your physical CDs, it’d be 1000 CDs x 2 songs x 9.1 cents = $182.

    For downloads, you need to secure something called a DPD (it’s basically a mechanical license for digital music). Those are also about 9.1 cents per song (plus some administrative fees). You can buy them in bulk for advanced sales (as low as 150 downloads, I believe) and then renew when you’ve sold that quantity.

    @ChrisRobley

  • The cost is the same regardless of the popularity of the song. It’s 9.1 cents per song per unit sold. When you purchase mechanical licenses for your physical CDs, it’d be 1000 CDs x 2 songs x 9.1 cents = $182.

    For downloads, you need to secure something called a DPD (it’s basically a mechanical license for digital music). Those are also about 9.1 cents per song (plus some administrative fees). You can buy them in bulk for advanced sales (as low as 150 downloads, I believe) and then renew when you’ve sold that quantity.

    @ChrisRobley

    • ALfie Mella

      Chris,
      Thank you very much for this reply. This really helped. At least, I’m not worried anymore because it’s after all not that expensive as I thought it would be.

      It would be really frustrating on my part not to be able to release our versions of such songs after the hard work that we put into rearranging them just because it’s very costly to acquire a licensing permit.

      I’ll now go about the next step, which is accomplishing the license appilcation.

      aLfie
      (haLf man haLf eLf)

  • Rosanna Garcia

    Hi Chris, I was wondering if you would be able to help me or point me in the right direction where to get help. I am currently a student taking a music business course and needed some help understanding different scenarios of a sampling of music industry.

    So a CD of Lenny Kravitz’s debut album, “Let Love Rule” (1989) purchased at Best Buy who would earn money?
    The people that would earn money would be the record label, publisher, and writers?

    Also what would be the license or usage permission called?

    What specific types of income (fees and/or royalties) are generated? What are the fees and/or royalties called?

    Who is paying fees and/or royalties? Who is collecting the fees and/or royalties on behalf of another party?

    Are the uses/fees statutory or negotiated?

    Are the licenses compulsory or voluntary?

    If you could help me out to understand this situation or point me in the right direction I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks

  • Rosanna Garcia

    Hi Chris, I was wondering if you would be able to help me or point me in the right direction where to get help. I am currently a student taking a music business course and needed some help understanding different scenarios of a sampling of music industry.

    So a CD of Lenny Kravitz’s debut album, “Let Love Rule” (1989) purchased at Best Buy who would earn money?
    The people that would earn money would be the record label, publisher, and writers?

    Also what would be the license or usage permission called?

    What specific types of income (fees and/or royalties) are generated? What are the fees and/or royalties called?

    Who is paying fees and/or royalties? Who is collecting the fees and/or royalties on behalf of another party?

    Are the uses/fees statutory or negotiated?

    Are the licenses compulsory or voluntary?

    If you could help me out to understand this situation or point me in the right direction I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks

  • Sean

    Chris,

    I have taken the lyrics from a hip-hop song chorus and added them to an otherwise completely original acoustic guitar song I have written. I have changed a couple of the words around but it is relatively the same. What kind of rights would I have to obtain for this, if any? Thanks.

  • Adam G. Stein

    I created a new melody “based” off of the Christmas song “do you hear what I hear” for a specific church application. The lyrics are completely new, and the melody is greatly adapted, but yet, you can clearly recognize parts of the melody, especially the “do you hear…” melody line. What is my obligation here and how in the world to I deal with the licensing. I want to be fair (and I don’t want to get in any trouble!) thank you for your help!

  • I don’t believe that “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is in the public domain. That means you’d have to get the permission of the publisher to create a derivative work (where the lyrics are altered). If they give you permission, you’ll have to work out payment arrangements from there.

    @ChrisRobley

  • I don’t believe that “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is in the public domain. That means you’d have to get the permission of the publisher to create a derivative work (where the lyrics are altered). If they give you permission, you’ll have to work out payment arrangements from there.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Shelley Karutz

    Hi Christopher, My question is regarding- I have recorded a cover version of a song and gained the mechanical licensing through limelight. Is there an easy way to track how many of the bought licenses that I have used so I easily know when they have all been used and it is time to purchase new licensing? Also, is there a standard place like limelight where you can purchase the synch licensing to be able to put the cover music with video onto youtube.

  • Shelley Karutz

    Hi Christopher, I have another question. With Cover songs, once you have the mechanical license and synch license, and have created a music video. Do you need any other license for example if the song/music video was played on a tv music show?

  • Even though it happens all the time, you’re technically NOT allowed to use someone else’s track as the source of a sample in your own music unless you get the permission of the publisher/songwriter AND the owner of the master recording (or unless they’ve designated through a Creative Commons license that you can do so without their permission).

    @ChrisRobley

  • Even though it happens all the time, you’re technically NOT allowed to use someone else’s track as the source of a sample in your own music unless you get the permission of the publisher/songwriter AND the owner of the master recording (or unless they’ve designated through a Creative Commons license that you can do so without their permission).

    @ChrisRobley

  • There’s no centralized clearing house for sync rights for YouTube cover song videos. That’d be sweet, though!

    Regarding the mechanicals you’ve purchased, the best way to do that is to tally up your download sales in your CD Baby members accounting dashboard. You can do it by song/album, or by retailer.

    @ChrisRobley

  • There’s no centralized clearing house for sync rights for YouTube cover song videos. That’d be sweet, though!

    Regarding the mechanicals you’ve purchased, the best way to do that is to tally up your download sales in your CD Baby members accounting dashboard. You can do it by song/album, or by retailer.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Shelley Karutz

      Thankyou again 😀 A good potential business idea for someone perhaps re synchronisation clearing licensing house?!? Best regards 😀

  • That’s a great question. You mean, like, you’ve cleared all the rights to make a video of a cover song — but now another TV show wants to play your cover song video? I would ask a lawyer just to be sure.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Shelley Karutz

      Thanks for your help Christopher, much appreciated 🙂

  • Gary Margie Asbury

    Hi I am a pastor of a small church. under 50. I would like to download several “old standard” Christmas carols from YouTube and reproduce them for giving away to our church attendees at Christmas time. Do I need a license for this?

  • Gary Margie Asbury

    Hi I am a pastor of a small church. under 50. I would like to download several “old standard” Christmas carols from YouTube and reproduce them for giving away to our church attendees at Christmas time. Do I need a license for this?

    • Do you want to use the recordings that other people have made in order to make a Christmas mix? Technically, yes. You need to pay the publisher/songwriter AND the entity that owns the master recording (and get their permission). That being said, millions (maybe billions?) of people have made mix tapes without paying any royalties. ; )

      @ChrisRobley

    • Do you want to use the recordings that other people have made in order to make a Christmas mix? Technically, yes. You need to pay the publisher/songwriter AND the entity that owns the master recording (and get their permission). That being said, millions (maybe billions?) of people have made mix tapes without paying any royalties. ; )

      @ChrisRobley

      • Gary Margie Asbury

        Thanks for your prompt reply Chris, does the licensing applyto those songs in public domain? That is what we would use. Thanks again for your valuable service.

      • Gary Margie Asbury

        Thanks for your prompt reply Chris, does the licensing applyto those songs in public domain? That is what we would use. Thanks again for your valuable service.

        • Well, if all the songs are in the public domain, you wouldn’t need to worry about paying publishing (mechanical) royalties at that point, but you would still need to get the permission of the person who created the recording. (And possibly pay them).

          @ChrisRobley

          • Gary Margie Asbury

            Thank you for your help

  • Shouvik Das

    Hi Christopher,
    I wanted to depict some popular songs in Merchandise. I will use 4-5 words of the lyrics and an original illustration and if allowed would love to mention the band’s name How can i get licenses for the same? Also I am based out of USA.So will the rules change..

  • kerrie duggan

    Hiya, I want to use a famous 70’s track to be played on a website, do I need a lisence for this? Thanks!

  • Mark

    Hi Christopher.

    Great article with real good insight! I have a question if you don’t mind?

    I have started a commercial music studio, offering experiences for people to come down and record songs from their favourite artists and take home a CD. What kind of copyright obstacles/issues are related to this kind of situation? Does it make a difference if I purchase karaoke versions of the songs or make my own compositions, or even buy the original instrumentals?

    If there are any licences to be applied for regarding this, which type am I looking at?

    Thanks very much

    Mark

  • Hi Mark,

    If this is a key part of your recording business I’d suggest consulting with a lawyer. I THINK you’d be fine (without paying royalties or anything) as long as you could guarantee that none of these clients would ever distribute these tracks, put them on YouTube or SoundCloud, or give away CDs. BUT… that’s probably a risk.

    So, might be worth looking into what licenses you’d need for karaoke tracks, cover songs, etc.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Mark

      Thank you Christopher!

  • Yep. Though what kind of license would depend on the usage, whether it’s a cover song or the original recording, etc.

    I’d suggest you consult with a lawyer to make sure everything is legit.

    @ChrisRobley

  • I’m not really sure, actually. I think you’d have to get the permission of songwriter/publisher, but I’d recommend you talk to a music lawyer to be sure.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Hi Sean,

    You’d have to get the permission of the publisher/songwriter, and then negotiate the $$ terms from there. What you want to create is called a “derivative work,” which is different from a simple cover songs. So yeah, you’d need to ask the songwriter and publisher for permission.

    @ChrisRobley

  • David C

    Hi Christopher, I have a track on which I sampled about a 3 second clip of vocals from a 1970s Loleatta Holloway song. I am looking to share the song online via soundcloud, youtube, etc. what kind of clearance/licensing would I need? I do not intend to profit from the track at all. It seems nearly impossible to get in contact with the publishers/songwriters! Any tips? Thanks!

  • Katalinwordsandmusic

    Hi Christopher. I would like to record a song which is in the Public Domain, and also based on a traditional melody. I have found several versions on youtube, also some with lyrics in other languages but none in English. I have seen some of those on my collecting societies website, registered as Public domain. As I have written some English lyrics, I would like to give it a new title in English and the original as an alternative title. Any issues I should be aware of?

    • Pretty sure you’re fine. As long as the music truly is public domain, then you’re free to add original lyrics and re-title it.

      @ChrisRobley

      • Katalinwordsandmusic

        Thank You Christopher

      • Katalinwordsandmusic

        Thanks

  • Well, technically, you need the permission of the publisher/songwriter AND the owner of the sound recording (usually the label that put the music out). Maybe try contacting the label (since you need their permission anyway) and see if they have any contact info for the publisher/songwriter.

    There’s always the “just post it online and see what happens” philosophy, but that certainly isn’t sound advice, since you could be taken to court for infringement even if you’re not selling the music, just giving it away via YouTube or whatever. And if that happens, the copyright holders are far less likely to want to allow you to continue distributing the song (even if they’ve then been awarded damages and cut in on a share of the publishing/proceeds your song generates).

    @ChrisRobley

  • Roseann Vaughn

    I have a question, My husband sent a song of his to a rapper, and about a year later the artist dropped a new album title exactly the same as the song, the song has copy writes, and the artist used the title of his song as his album name is there anything that he can do about it?

  • Hi Christopher, i just finished an album of cover songs, but i need to know exactly who is/are the author/s and publisher of the songs…where i should search?

  • eric snow

    Hi Chris, what about taking a portion of lyrics from a song and printing them on products such as coffee cups??? Not the whole song, maybe like one or tow bars of lyrics, would I need permission for that? What kind of license would that be?

  • If a Google search doesn’t yield results, try searching on the Harry Fox Agency’s website, or on the big PROs (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc.). At least one of those agencies should have the info you need. (And Harry Fox can help you clear mechanical licenses while you’re at it).

    @ChrisRobley

    • yeah i searched on GEMA, thanks!

  • Yes, you would need permission, as those lyrics are protected by copyright. I’m not sure what the exact license is called, but you’ll probably want to consult with a lawyer anyway if you enter into a contract with the writer/publisher.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Did the rapper take the song or any of the lyrics? Or just the title of the song? You can’t copyright song titles, so if that’s all he took, unfortunately, no. You can’t do anything about it. If he took MORE than the title, yes, and you should get in touch with a lawyer.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Roseann Vaughn

      Thank you I will let my husband know what you have told me.

      Kindly
      Roseanne Vaughn

      Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device

      ——– Original message ——–

  • Damian Creation

    Hi chris, i have downloaded a new mix from sound cloud but the mix contains a sample from 3 doors down would i also need to get clearance from the producer/recording master of the 3 doors down song to put my own lyrics in the new mix or how does that work? thanks in advance

    • Yes. You would definitely need to get permission from 1) the label (who owns the master recording), and 2) the songwriter/publisher of that 3 Doors Down song.

      @ChrisRobley

      • Damian Creation

        Thank you for the response Chris, much appreciated. Not the answer i wanted lol but i guess i need to start trying to reach them both now, thanks a lot chris

  • ; ) Sorry to be the bad news bearer, but glad to help.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Matt Logan

    Thank you so much for helping people in this way. What about a blues guitar piece inspired by another but where both timing and melody have been modified, entirely new lyrics created, but the chord progression sounds the same? The end result is that there is only some similarity remaining.

    • You’re probably ok there, especially since so many blues songs are based on similar chord sequences. And you can’t copyright harmonic changes anyway. So,… new melody, new lyrics, new song!

      @ChrisRobley

  • Fal

    Hi Christopher! I was wondering about taking a song and putting entirely new lyrics along to the same beat. I’m trying to make a video for my company to the tune of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” from the Disney movie Frozen. I would not be using any of the lyrics and the music would be different (I would be composing an extremely simple tune to go with my version)… do i need any sort of licensing to be able to use it as a fun little ad for my company?

    • If you’re composing a new song that is just modeled on the groove or tempo of the Frozen song, you’re probably fine. But if you borrow any musical elements or sample any of the audio, then yes, you would need permission.

      @ChrisRobley

  • dmitri senda

    What if the singer is singing a song that has LONG been in the public domain ? A song I took off of You Tube that said it was public domain in the title description got flagged because someone copyrighted the recording. How can the copyright something that HAS NO copyright that’s 111 years old ? Shouldn’t fair use apply for anything written before 1923 ?

    • Well, the composition is in the public domain, but the sound recording is not. If YouTube is confusing the two, send them an email to clarify.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Mitch Brendle

    I am reproducing very simple beats. There are modeled after well known beats used by rappers that have popular albums. They are not exact duplicates but pretty close. We are then rapping new lyrics over the beats.

    Can I get a mechanical license and be ok to sell the track or is the fact that I’m doing different lyrics eliminate the chance to use a mechanical license?

    Does the fact that I am righting a beat modeled or more or less copied from a popular track mean I need a license and if so what kind?

  • If you’re writing new lyrics, you can’t get mechanical licenses. Those are for straight-up cover songs. As for modeling beats after existing songs, you might need to get the permission of the writer/publisher of the original tracks. I’d suggest consulting with an attorney.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Hi Christopher, we are looking at recording a few Christmas songs to release and give all profits to a charity close to our hearts. Some of the songs we wanted to cover are not in the public domain. I know we need to buy a mechanical license but not sure which website is best to use in the UK and if there is anything else we need to consider?
    Thank you.
    Kerrie

  • Hi Kerrie, I’m not sure exactly how mechanicals differ in the UK, but if you can’t find details online, I”ll bet Harry Fox Agency can point you in the right direction.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Chris

    Ok, I have a question that i cant seem to find a clear answer for. Im a singer/songwriter in an Indie band. I have written a tribute song to Nirvana. The music and lyrics are completely original, however, i wanted to use one of their riffs as a bridge in the song. Its weird, because the song itself is a tribute and stating that its Nirvana riff. So the song itself give credit to Nirvana, and the bridge is merely 4 measures…Any input on this situaion?

  • Though there MAY be a case for Fair Use, since the reference is acknowledge in the context of the song, I believe that you’d probably still need to get the permission of the publishers in order to use a piece of a Nirvana composition in your new work. From there, you’d negotiate $$ matters.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Jessica Michaels

    Hi, Christopher.

    I want to use a MIDI sequence of a public domain song for a YouTube video. I’ve just used the sequence itself (the notation, that is) with added virtual instrumentation.

    Would this get me into trouble?

    Thanks so much!

  • Who created the MIDI sequence/arrangement? I think it’d be up to them.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Shanna louis

    Hey Kevin i would like to use Jay Z and Kanye West instrumental of the song Otis , which license would i need, the mechanical ? And is it ok that i can use it considering they sampled the beat from Otis himself?

  • Ooo. That’s complicated. You’d definitely need permission to sample the recording (and depending on how Jay Z and Kanye altered the origianl recording of Otis), you’d need the permission of Otis’ label AND the permission of Kanye and Jay Z’s label in order to use teh sound recording. THEN… depending on how you use that sample in your song, you might also need to have additional discussions with the songwriters/publishers. If the sample forms a significant basis for the new composition, you may’ve created a “derivative work.” Which requires their permission. I’d suggest consulting with an entertainment attorney.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Danny Novak

    I am retired musician from Poland. Recently I recorded my piano versions of some american and international oldies. My friend told me, that I should try to use internet (Amazon) to sell my Cd’s. How to do that legally?

  • Coreynoldszero

    I have a question about non-musical (field recording) copyrights. I want to use some samples from a NASA Voyager “recording” of radio frequencies emitted from certain planets. I would describe them odd sounding drones.

    I plan to have a monologue over it (words written by myself and my own voice speaking) along with my own musical compositions over it as well. It would be used for about 20 seconds on an intro and eventually the music would take over.

    I’ve heard on some forums that anything from NASA is public domain. The original sounds were recorded by NASA’s Voyager then someone named Dr. Jeffrey Thompson took the sounds and filtered and manipulated them so they could be comfortably heard within the human hearing range. These sounds are sold as a natural healing therapy not music. The original CDs of these samples were released in 1990 under a label called Brain/Mind Research (which I don’t think exists anymore) and are close to impossible to find now. But you can find some of the samples to purchase online. And the only trustworthy legitimate sites are amazon and iTunes. The only time I’ve seen a copyright (P) is if you buy it from iTunes.

    If I buy these samples would I be able to use them as I desire without copyright infringement? If it would be copyright infringement how would I go about getting permission in this strange case. If I somehow (however unlikely) was able to contact Dr. Jeffrey Thompson and ask permission would that be enough if he said “yes”. What would be the proper way of getting permission?

  • In order to sell cover songs on CDs you need to secure mechanical licenses and pay the publisher/songwriter (or their administrator) in advance of the manufacturing/distribution process. Check out the Harry Fox Agency to pay for those cover songs upfront. If you sell downloads, you’ll need to get the equivalent mechanical licenses for downloads (also paid in advance, in bulk, for a set number of downloads, and then you renew once those are sold).

    @ChrisRobley

  • That’s an interesting case. My first thought was that if NASA recorded them, they’re absolutely Pubic Domain, since it’s a government agency. BUT… then you mentioned that the samples you’d use were manipulated, which makes me wonder if that guy owns the copyright on that particular recording. If you could perform a similar sonic manipulation to the original source audio, you’d be all set I think. But in lieu of that, seems like trying to track him down is the best option. (You should also ask an attorney about this, because I’m just typing out loud here… ) If you can contact him, he can grant or deny permission, and then set any rate he wants for the usage of the sample (assuming it is protected by copyright).

    Oh, another thing that might be worth checking: did he manipulate the sounds FOR NASA? Like, did they hire him to do that treatment so they could present the audio to the world? If that’s the case, it makes me go back to the first assumption of the recording be in the Public Domain.

    Let me know what you find out!

    @ChrisRobley

  • Jerry

    Hi, Wondering what license(s) would be necessary to transcribe copyrighted piano sheet music renditions of various music genres i.e. Smile, Over The Rainbow, Gershwin Preludes,etc. for classical guitar and perform them publically. Also, to perform copyrighted standard classical guitar sheet music pieces/transcriptions publically. Thanks, Jerry

  • That’s a great question, and one I’m not really sure about. I think you’re fine to perform them publicly, but less sure about recording them. That’d be like covering a particular arrangement of a song, which I believe requires the mechanical license AND some kind of permission from the arranger. But again, not really sure on that. I’d suggest asking a lawyer (or checking out some books on music biz law/copyright/etc.).

    @ChrisRobley

  • That’s a great question, and one I’m not really sure about. I think you’re fine to perform them publicly, but less sure about recording them. That’d be like covering a particular arrangement of a song, which I believe requires the mechanical license AND some kind of permission from the arranger. But again, not really sure on that. I’d suggest asking a lawyer (or checking out some books on music biz law/copyright/etc.).

    @ChrisRobley

    • Jerry

      Thanks, Chris! Also thanks for your answers to so many varied questions. Reading them helped me, and I’m sure others, to get a basic foot-hold and formulate more focused questions about this complicated industry. Great Blog! Jerry

    • Try this: http://www.harryfox.com. There you can look up the song you want to record, answer questions about song length, cd duplications, etc, and pay based on those #s. It’s not that bad.

      • Jerry

        Thanks, Stephanie, I will check that out. I’m sure you agree: this blog has the most variety of useful, and understandable information about licensing I’ve found! Thanks again, Chris.

  • Colly Cranney

    Hi – quick question – I have used only the lyrics of a song but have completely changed the composition, instrumentation and melody – however it IS an “ode” to the original – where do I stand ?

  • Joseph de Mesa

    Sir Christopher, let’s say someone cover one popular song and turn it into pure instrumental(fingerstyle). Then this someone gave or sell the tab of his creation based from the original pop song. A lot of people bought the tab and everntually performed it in different video conduit such sa youtube and facebook. Are the buyers of the tab liable for any violation of copyright of the original composition?

  • Jessica Grace Hor

    Hi,

    I am looking to use the Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk music for a cover. So I will change the lyrics to use at a Church service so God we lift you up instead of Uptown funk you up. And I was wondering if there were any issues around us using the instrumental for a one off…?

  • Technically, yes. You’d need permission from the writer/publisher to alter the song in that way, plus the permission of the label to use the sound recording. BUT… if you’re just doing it once live and don’t plan to record/video it,…

    @ChrisRobley

  • Technically, yes. You’d need permission from the writer/publisher to alter the song in that way, plus the permission of the label to use the sound recording. BUT… if you’re just doing it once live and don’t plan to record/video it,…

    @ChrisRobley

  • Legally, that’s a derivative work and you’d need the writer/publisher’s permission to distribute it. They can say no, or yes, and demand any amount they want.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Glad to kinda/sorta help. Thanks for reading!

    @ChrisRobley

  • Well, probably so (from a technical standpoint), but most writers/publishers are happy to just collect ad revenue from the videos that are out there. It’s rare that a publisher/writer will ask for YouTube to remove videos of other people performing their songs.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Hi Christopher. I’m really confused. I want to release my next album (without label.) I wrote all the songs myself ( I own the rights.) So do I still need to obtain this license? It seems the license is for releasing other peoples songs?

  • Hi Christopher. I’m really confused. I want to release my next album (without label.) I wrote all the songs myself ( I own the rights.) So do I still need to obtain this license? It seems the license is for releasing other peoples songs?

  • Esmeralda Harmer

    Hi There
    We are a not for profit organisation wanting to use an artists song to feature as musical overlay to our 30 second community service ad which will air on local television. Do you have any advice on where to start asking for permission to use it?
    It is a suicide prevention ad and the song we had in mind was Pinks ‘perfect’
    Any help appreciated – Esmeralda

  • Jerry

    HI again, Christopher,
    When you mention ad revenue from youtube song performances, would that be from personal, non-professional (or maybe professional) performances that are monetized, or from licensing fees?
    Thanks, Jerry

  • You would need to get the permission of: 1) the songwriters and publishers (check the databases of ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC for that info), and 2) the owner of the sound recording (most likely Pink’s label). You would negotiate the licensing fee from there.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Heidi Anderson

    Hi, Christopher. Is it possible to use a Karaoke backing track to record with my vocals and sell it as a single? If so, who do I need to get permission from? The karaoke track distributor and the original artist/publisher? Thanks for your help.:)

  • MrBlifil

    We have some behind-the-scenes footage of our talent spontaneously busting out some raps by Eminem and Chris Brown. It’s just the lyrics while a third person does a human beat box. On multiple occasions they fail to get through the song and start over. It’s clear it’s not intended as a performance of the song, they’re just playing a game. Well we get busted for not having a license if we post the video?

    • Are you wanting to post it on YouTube? I’m not sure, from a legal standpoint, but in many cases, copyright holders are satisfied taking ad revenue from your video.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Hi Jerry,

    What do you mean by “non-professional performances?”

    Basically, the way our program works: ANY video on YouTube that uses the sound recording of a song you’ve opted in for the program will have an ad placed on it. You earn a share of the associated ad revenue.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Hi Jerry,

    What do you mean by “non-professional performances?”

    Basically, the way our program works: ANY video on YouTube that uses the sound recording of a song you’ve opted in for the program will have an ad placed on it. You earn a share of the associated ad revenue.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Jerry

      Hi Back Christopher,

      Thanks for the follow up!

      My question concerned people, including myself,
      that might post performances of songs/pieces on YouTube that are not
      professional musicians and have them monetized. The question came from your
      response to the previous tab question (sure you knew that):

      “Well, probably so (from a technical
      standpoint), but most writers/publishers are happy to just collect ad revenue
      from the videos that are out there. It’s rare that a publisher/writer will ask
      for YouTube to remove videos of other people performing their songs.”

      I didn’t realize the writers/publishes would
      collect a sum from corporate ads when their songs are performed on a monetized video –
      non-pro or professionally. I’m probably just confused!

      Could you explain a bit more about : “uses
      the sound recording of a song you’ve opted in for the program will have an ad
      placed on it. You earn a share of the associated ad revenue.” – does opted
      in mean monetized? I know the old adage “understanding will follow” is
      true with perseverance, but terminology overload in this field can be overwhelming.

      I noticed the site section on YouTube – I will review it.

      Thanks for your patient dialog! 🙂

      Jerry

  • Legally, I’m not sure. I’d recommend contacting the creators of the karaoke track to see what permissions you’d need. If they have no objections to you using their sound recording (get it in writing!), then I believe you’d only need to secure the normal mechanical licenses for distributing cover songs.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Hey Jerry,

    No problem. Yeah, this stuff can get pretty lingo heavy.
    So, let’s say you have a song you’re selling/distributing it through CD Baby.
    If you opt in for our YouTube/Sync program, we will monetize your music on YouTube.
    How that works is YouTube will take a sonic fingerprint of your music, and then they’ll use their Content ID system to identify any time that sound recording of your song appears on YouTube (in ANY video, not just the ones you’ve uploaded to your own channel).

    They’ll put ads on all those videos and you earn ad revenue.

    All that being said, you cannot opt in any cover songs for our YouTube Monetization program. Just original songs. If you upload cover songs to YouTube, there’s a good chance the video will be flagged by YouTube’s Content ID system, an ad will be placed on it, and any revenue generated will be paid to the publisher/songwriter (not you). Also, there’s a chance the copyright holder will ask for your video of their song to be removed, though that is happening less frequently these days now that they can get a slice of ad revenue.

    Does that make sense? Let me know if you have followup questions.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Tiffany Goodson Vickers

    If you write a tribute song about a famous artist and you create your own lyrics and melody but you use about 6 song titles of the artist in the song…. what do you need to do as far as copyrighting the song?

  • Well, you can’t copyright a song title, so if you’re just referencing titles, I think you’re fine. However, if you’re talking about the artist, mentioning their songs, and coming close to their style in the recording itself, you might be in some kind of legal gray area. Hopefully not, since it’s an homage, but I’d recommend checking with a lawyer to be sure.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Well, you can’t copyright a song title, so if you’re just referencing titles, I think you’re fine. However, if you’re talking about the artist, mentioning their songs, and coming close to their style in the recording itself, you might be in some kind of legal gray area. Hopefully not, since it’s an homage, but I’d recommend checking with a lawyer to be sure.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Nova Mundum

    First: thanks for the clarifying posts. I wish the process was as clear as the explanations. My question: I’ve got a small R&B band doing a set of demo cover tunes. Performing is no problem, since the venues have ASCAP/BMI/etc. coverage. However, I want to create a demo CD and website that shows examples of the music. This isn’t for the purposes of full performance – it’s just so venues can see what we can do – maybe 50 people will ever view, and it’s on a website owned by the band, not YouTube. The video and recording shop won’t do the recording without a mechanical and synch license. The mechanicals seem straightforward (Harry Fox looks like a “one stop shop”) but the synch licenses are basically a maze of dead ends for various agencies. HFA confusingly has “eSynch” but it’s for a tiny set of music I’ve never heard of at preposterous rates. The other ones I found have 4-6 week turnaround, or no search engine, or are just generally terrible. Is there a website that is lower friction than what I’m seeing?

  • OffbeatBryce

    I am told by SongTrust that spotify and streaming sevices no longer pay the mechanical license. Is this really true?

  • OffbeatBryce

    I am told by SongTrust that spotify and streaming sevices no longer pay the mechanical license. Is this really true?

    • No. All properly licensed streaming services such as Spotify still pay mechanicals. I’ll ask our friends at SongTrust to see what they might’ve meant or if there was some miscommunication along the way.

      @ChrisRobley

    • No. All properly licensed streaming services such as Spotify still pay mechanicals. I’ll ask our friends at SongTrust to see what they might’ve meant or if there was some miscommunication along the way.

      @ChrisRobley

      • OffbeatBryce

        Well that is strange. I even called the Harry Fox agency who says Spotify and streaming services no longer pay mechanicals. Harry Fox as they used to collect mechanical certain services but they no longer do.

  • This isn’t legal advice, but I think your safest best (even though it’s still a legal gray area itself) is to put those live performance videos of cover songs on YouTube. Many/most publishers and songwriters are cool with their songs being covered on YouTube because they can monetize your video and collect ad revenue. Plus, you get to house the video in a place that is open to all (including your fans) and you can bypass the whole synch thing. Again, not legal advice, so you may want to consult an attorney, but so many people are posting live cover songs on YouTube, and almost none of them are going through the old synch licensing process.

    As for the discs you’re going to press with demos, yeah, I think HFA is your best best. Just pay the mechanicals for those (and for any streaming you’ll be doing on your website).

    @ChrisRobley

  • This isn’t legal advice, but I think your safest best (even though it’s still a legal gray area itself) is to put those live performance videos of cover songs on YouTube. Many/most publishers and songwriters are cool with their songs being covered on YouTube because they can monetize your video and collect ad revenue. Plus, you get to house the video in a place that is open to all (including your fans) and you can bypass the whole synch thing. Again, not legal advice, so you may want to consult an attorney, but so many people are posting live cover songs on YouTube, and almost none of them are going through the old synch licensing process.

    As for the discs you’re going to press with demos, yeah, I think HFA is your best best. Just pay the mechanicals for those (and for any streaming you’ll be doing on your website).

    @ChrisRobley

  • Divine

    Hey, I would like to create a song with another song’s instrumental. Is it illegal

  • Like, you want to write words and a new melody to an existing instrumental song? If so, you’d need to get the permission of the songwriter and publisher — and if they grant it, they can set the terms of the agreement.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Hi!! I live in the UK but I will make the production of an album in the US. Do you know if I need a mechanical licence for pieces whose composers died more than 70 years ago? thnx

    • You might. As far as I know, the cutoff point for “public domain” is still 1923. Anything after that could still be protected by copyright, depending on various factors. I would suggest checking with various online databases (Harry Fox, ASCAP, PRS, BMI, etc.) to see about copyright/songwriter/publishing info.

      @ChrisRobley

      • Thank you Christopher! There are some pieces in my album that had been released before 1923 and the composers died before that as well. Do I need a licence for those? Also there’s a piece where the composer is an “anonymous”.. What about that?? Some of the pieces that the composer died before 1923 are on H. Fox’s database.. Why to have it on their database as long as the composer died before 1923? Many questions I know, but I have been looking for 2 months now about all these and still can’t solve it! Many thanks!!

      • So I don’t need to worry about mechanical rights if the composer died or the song was released before 1923? What happens in case of a song who’s composer is anonymous?

  • reza ajam

    Hi Christopher. I have a question regarding usage of public domain songs and hymns. Is there any limitations to how one can use PD songs. i.e. is it legal to make edm remixes of those or use their existing melodies with my own lyrics For commercial purposes? Thanks

    • You can use and repurpose the composition and lyrics pretty much any way you like. However, you can’t use someone else’s recording of a public domain song. You’d need to license the master recording for that. Better to create your own recording in that case.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Christina Seher

    My husband is a singer and is looking to purchase some songs from a songwriter (lyrics & sheet music). Once we purchase these songs, what rights are left to the songwriter? I.E. Singer makes it BIG with songwriters song – Does he get a cut? Royalties?

  • Your husband doesn’t need to purchase songs. He just needs to secure the proper mechanical licenses and then pay the songwriter/publisher the appropriate royalties. Whether your husband makes it big or not, he will owe the songwriter/publisher a 9.1 cent royalty on every CD manufactured that contains the cover song, and the same royalty on all download sales of that song. The songwriter/publisher will also earn performance royalties for any radio play the song receives, and other publishing-related royalties.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Hmmm. I’m no publishing law expert, but I wonder if they’re included in the database because someone has copyrighted particular arrangements of those songs? My guess is that the songs themselves are in the public domain, but I think you should probably consult with an expert to be sure. Before calling a lawyer, maybe you could contact Harry Fox and see if they can give you some details.

    @ChrisRobley

  • The death of composer isn’t relevant in this situation. Just the age of the composition. Since it’s written before 1923, I THINK they’d be considered public domain. As for the anonymous one, when was it written? If it’s an old traditional, then yes — Public Domain.

    @ChrisRobley

  • thisisuma

    Hey! I am releasing a cover of “Valerie,” but I rewrote the chorus using the words “why don’t you come on over” (in the original song, but with a different melody). Is there some different process I need to got through? Also do you have any recommendations on services that offer mechanical licenses?

  • So you kept the words the same, but just changed the melody a bit for that one section? I THINK you’d be fine, in that case, especially since that section that runs from the end of the verse into the choruses goes by so quickly. I’m not an authority on the matter, but I suspect you’re fine to move ahead with a “simple” mechanical license (instead of having to get permission from the writer/publisher for creating a “derivative work”). As for the license itself to distribute the cover song, check out Harry Fox Agency.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Alan Ferrier

    I have a video recording of a band performance (I was given permission to video, but only verbally), EMI own the publishing rights to all the songs performed. I would like to put out an unofficial bootleg of the performance, I have contacted PRS and they advise that I can purchase a Limited Manufacture license to produce a limited number of copies. I think this covers the publishing side of things. The band aren’t keen can they legally prevent me from doing so? I’am writing from the UK

  • Fudge

    This is just a question because I’m curious but,
    If you ‘created’ a song from differnt lyrics of different songs that were published, would that be legal?
    And if you copied down someones lyrics and passed them off as your own, is that illegal?
    Sorry about these (probably stupid) questions but I was just curious.
    Hope you answer,
    Thanks,
    Fudge

    • Copying someone’s lyrics without their permission is illegal, yes. However, if you got permission from the songwriters and publishers, you COULD create a new song from their existing lyrics. That type of song would be considered a ‘derivative work’ which requires their permission first before you can distribute it (and they can set the $$ terms).

      @ChrisRobley

  • OBEats 333

    Hi Christopher, first of all thanks fro taking the time to help all of us out! I had a quick question. i made a chopped and screwed remix of be real by kid ink feat dej loaf. The label for Kid ink is RCA and I cannot find contact information anywhere. I’m still a little confused on who I need to contact exactly as well. Being I used most the vocals and part of the instrumental for the sample, I’m assuming I’m going to have to clear it from a lot of people. If you could point me in the right direction I would appreciate that a lot! Thanks

  • Well, to legally use that sample you’d need permission from 1) the owner of the sound recording (most likely the label), and 2) the publisher/songwriter.

    You might be able to find songwriter/publisher information by looking in the album’s liner notes. If not, check ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Harry Fox Agency databases.

    I’m not exactly sure WHO you’d want to contact at the label to get the conversation going, so maybe just use any old email or phone number you can find for them and ask for the right contact.

    Hope that helps. Good luck clearing the sample!

    @ChrisRobley

  • CanadianKyosa

    If you make a new arrangement of a song, such as Madonna and American Pie, then that new arrangement can be copyrighted, also. Note-for-note, or almost, is not considered a “new song” so it is not eligible,as Cats in the Cradle by Ugy Kid Joe and Without You by Mariah Carey, I am thinking would not be due to how they are very close to the originals.

  • Bethony Riedel

    Hi Chris. I want to rerecord a song so I guess you can caml it a cover. However, on the original record, the instrumental on the B side that I would just use as the music to record to. Id also want to make a music video, sell it as a download on itunes (more than 2500 copies hopefully) as well as physical copies (cds). Can you cover with me all the licenses id need?

  • Do you want to release the video of them performing (such as on YouTube), or just the audio of that live performance? The first is more complex because you’d need sync rights. Either way, if it’s the actual band performing the song, I’d suggest getting the band’s permission. They may want to release it themselves (and perhaps pay you something for recording it). But if you sell it/stream it/upload it to YouTube, the songwriter and publisher will be owed some kind of $$, so it’s best to work all that out with them directly beforehand.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Marlow

    I’m redoing the famous song “we are the world”
    Using the same music (just an updated version)
    And changing the lyrics all except the
    “We are the Children” phrase
    What kind of license should I seek?
    Please email me
    BlandfordCommunityCenter@gmail.com

  • If you’re changing the lyrics, you need to get the permission of the publisher, because you’d be creating what is called a “derivative work.” It’s different from a standard cover song, and the publisher CAN prevent you from distributing it (or agree according to terms they set).

    @ChrisRobley

  • Horror gob

    Hello there. I have recreated a song from the sound of music in 8 bit chip tune. (do a dear a female dear etc..) but have altered the music and changed the lyrics. Does this still require permission? Even though pretty different? Cheers for the help man! I wish to upload on bandcamp without a download option.

  • You would need to get permission from the publisher in order to distribute this version because it is considered a “derivative work.” The publisher can agree (and set their own terms) or deny you the right to distribute. Posting it online for free streaming via Bandcamp is still considered distribution, so if you do that without permission, the producer will then have the right to sue you for infringement and prevent you from ever distributing it in the future. (Thus the importance of taking care of all this stuff upfront). It sounds like a rad track, though, so hopefully they’ll dig it and say, “Sure, we just need ____ in order to make it work.”

    @ChrisRobley

  • So, are you wanting to use the instrumental version of the original track to create your version? (And just add your vocals?) If so, you’d need to get the permission of the label (since you’d be using their sound recording) — and then work out the terms from there with them (and the publisher) regarding the new version.

    @ChrisRobley

  • rachael schipper

    where can i ask for permission to use peoples songs as a song cover

  • You don’t need to ask permission. You just need to secure a mechanical license. Check out http://members.cdbaby.com/license-cover-song.aspx.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Rachael Schipper

      how can i do that? i got a video flagged for singing a song by rihanna called cry

      • A cover song video is different from a cover song recording. For a recording you don’t need permission (you just need to secure the mechanical license). With a video, you’re introducing a whole new element into the equation: synchronization rights. Publishers/songwriters CAN deny you the right to make a video using their songs.

        @ChrisRobley

  • BsethG

    Hi and thank you for your answers. If I was interested in taking a popular 80’s pop song and remaking it into a new EDM style song using the same lyrics but a new vocalist and all new instrumentals because it follows an EDM genre I assume that is considered a derivative work? Who would I need to negotiate with in that case.

    Similarly if I wanted to create an original EDM track but the vocals are a repeating sample from a performer of a popular 80’s song who is negotiated with in that case?
    Thanks!

  • So, for your first question, it’s hard to answer without hearing your new version, but it sounds like you just want to do a cover song, right? Or are you altering the melody and harmonic structure of the song significantly? If not, you can take a song and remake it in a new genre without it being a derivative work. If it IS a derivative work, you negotiate with the publisher of the song.

    To use a sample in your new original song, you’d need to negotiate with both the publisher of the song AND the owner of the sound recording (usually the label). Check out http://diymusician.cdbaby.com/2015/06/clear-samples-to-copyrighted-music/.

    @ChrisRobley

    • BsethG

      Thanks Chris!
      I’m not sure if it would be considered a cover, the vocal melody is basically the same (with a new vocalist) but the instrumental melody is significantly different because of the differing characteristics between 80’s and 90’s pop and current electronic dance music. A perfect example of what I’m referring to is a remake of Robin S – Show Me Love (1993) by Sam Feldt – Show Me Love (2015) (both on youtube) in this case none of the original instrumental music is used. Would that be a cover or a derivative?

      Thanks again!

  • That’s a tough one, and since I’m not a lawyer, I can’t really give an expert opinion. My personal, musical opinion is that — if your situation is similar to the Sam Feldt remake of Show Me Love — you could probably just call it a cover song. The reason I say that is because the original version is all about how the vocals riff above the groove. I don’t hear that song and think of a fixed melody that needs to be preserved 100% in a cover song. So… me personally, I’d say it’s a cover song (even though I can hear that the chords are slightly different). Anyway, just my opinion. Copyright! Sometimes it’s up to interpretation.

    @ChrisRobley

    • BsethG

      Thanks again!

  • Christopher Diamond

    Hello, I am looking to rearrange a very popular Latin Urban/Pop track, and have translated the lyrics into English. Since I have changed the lyrics, but the meaning of the lyrics is the same general message, do I just follow all the steps to obtain a mechanical and synch licensing?

  • From my understanding, translations are not considered standard cover songs. They are derivative works, and would require the permission of the publisher before you could distribute it.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Kim Kuzma

    Hi! This is a unique question… I co-wrote a song with two other writers. It is split 50/25/25. I’ve been asked by a company I will be performing for, if they can use less than 10 seconds of this same song as audio for their website. What do they need to pay concerning the other writers? What is the norm for percentage and cost for audio for a video promoting their business? Thank you very much!

  • Are they wanting to use the song to promote their website long term? Or is it just a little audio to promote your performance at their location? If the later, I’d say it’s promotional use and they can just embed a YouTube video, Soundcloud player, CD Baby player, etc. with that song. If the former, you’d want to negotiate the total fee/payment for that usage first. Then split that $$ according to your publishing split (50/25/25).

    @ChrisRobley

  • Daniel O’Keefe

    Christopher, I am in a pickle! I composed and recorded a song from scratch, then wrote a hook. I decided to have a lady friend sing the hook I wrote. She willingly sang on it, and it turned out amazing. However, a month later she says she doesn’t want her voice on the song. I had plans to publish this song. Since I wrote all of the parts, do I need her permission to move forward?

  • Phill

    Hi Guys,

    I have a question I am struggling to get answers to?
    If I download a midi file, change it a bit, then add an entirely new concept and lyrics to the song…do I still have to pay copyrights or is the song now mine?
    I have used the melody of Stevie Wonders “Superstitious”.

    Its not really a cover song anymore I take it? It’s my original?

    Any advice in this regard would be awesome.

    Thanks
    Phill

  • Well,… I’m not a legal expert, so I’m not really sure. On the one hand, depending on whatever agreement you had in the studio when she performed the song, you could probably just release it (and risk pissing her off). On the other,… you’d piss her off. What is her reluctance all about? Self-conscious about her vocals?

    @ChrisRobley

    • Daniel O’Keefe

      She claims she doesn’t trust working with me because I showed a friend the song without consulting her 1st. She also says she is shy about her voice. Thanks for the reply

    • Daniel O’Keefe

      She claims she doesn’t trust working with me because I showed a friend the song without consulting her 1st. She also says she is shy about her voice. Thanks for the reply

      • I wouldn’t fault you for sharing a song you were excited about with a friend. That’s just… normal musician excitement. As for the shyness, hmm… not sure. Maybe she’ll come around and hear what you hear in the track.

        @ChrisRobley

  • Nope. You’ve created a derivative work, and need to get the permission of the publisher/songwriter before you can distribute it. They can prevent you from doing so, or set the $$ terms for your usage of their song.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Phill

      Ah ha, ok I see. Thanks so much for the information. I want to release an album and sure if I did it and added this song it would cause me huge problems. Thanks for the info. Any advice regarding my song I mentioned? Can I make a new beat with a similar feel???

  • Karen Pigg Stewart

    Hey Christopher, Question I am creating a pre-school dance curriculmn and have made up a song about ballet to the tune of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, the version that starts ‘You know dasher and dancer… I am in process of making CD’s to sell with the program. So is a mechanical license what I need to do??? Thanks so much

    Karen

  • If you changed the lyrics then you have created what is called a “derivative work.” That kind of usage falls outside of the compulsory license available for standard cover songs. Instead, you need to get the permission of the publisher. They can deny you the right to distribute the song, or they can set whatever terms they like for that usage ($$, split of ownership, etc.)

    @ChrisRobley

  • Well, it depends how recognizable it is. If you re-record the track, but people still hear it and recognize it within your new composition, you’ve STILL created a derivative work (and need the permission of the publisher). If you record something similar, but no one draws the direct connection to the original song, then you’re all set.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Simona Stoqnova

    Can i sing a part of a popular song (10-15 seconds), without the music, change the pitch a little bit and use the recording in a mobile game? The mobile game will be free (only ads included) and published on GooglePlay.

  • Not without permission. That’d require a sync license.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Alex

    Question–I am interested in recording a cover of “Fell on Black Days” by Soundgarden to include on my album of original songs. I thought that I could just clear it on Limelight, but when I went to the site it gave me a message that “the Limelight service is no longer available.” Is there an alternative way to do this? Thanks!

  • BG

    Hi, I understand the laws associated with producing a cover song one can do so under a compulsory mechanical license and you can’t change the lyrics and you have to keep to the same basic melody but to do a partial cover is that permissible under the same laws? In other words if I was creating a song and I wanted to use two lines of lyrics of an existing song in my creation and I used a vocalist for those lyrics and kept to the melody of those two lines, is that legal under the copyright laws associated with cover songs? There are services out there that provide you with a very close sounding remake of a sample so that you don’t have to get sample clearance from the rights holders, are those considered partial covers? Thanks.

  • Yeah, Limelight closed down (acquired by Google). But there are other options for licensing cover songs here: http://members.cdbaby.com/license-cover-song.aspx

    @ChrisRobley

  • Judy Robinson

    If a cover song is used in a TV Series, would I need to obtain a mechanical license from original music publisher and record label along with the clearance from the artist that obtained the cover song?

  • Judy Robinson

    If an artist composed the lyrics, but not the melody, but paid the musician for that melody – and published the song (own publisher) – does the composer of the lyrics own the melody?

  • Well, I suppose that all depends on the terms of the contract the lyricist has with the melody writer (if the tune was composed as a work-for-hire type scenario, and so forth). I would consult with an attorney and make sure all the details are ironed out between both parties.

    @ChrisRobley

  • If a cover song is synced in a TV series, the producers of the show need to negotiate with: 1) the publisher of the song, and 2) the owner of the sound recording. So, permission is needed from both the controller of the composition copyright (songwriter/publisher), and the entity that controls the sound recording of the new cover version (the label or artist). However, that artist or label should have already secured mechanical licenses to distribute the cover song if it’s already been made available to the public.

    @ChrisRobley

  • You’d be creating what is known as a derivative work. There is no compulsory license for such a work, so you would need to get the permission of the publisher. They can grant or deny permission at will and set the terms for any usage (such as a percentage ownership of your new song, upfront fees, etc.).

    @ChrisRobley

  • Erica Long

    I want to put lyrics to an instrumental I heard on youtube. Would I still need a license?

  • Is the song in the public domain? If so, you CAN create new lyrics for it — but you should create your own new recording and arrangement of the tune. If the song is NOT in the public domain, you would need the permission of the publisher/songwriter to create lyrics for it. If you want to use the recording you found on YouTube, you’d need permission from the person or label that owns the sound recording.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Thomas Hardy

    I’ve created a demo. I’ve sent off for the copyright. Is it okay to pass the Demo out to music contacts before I’ve received my copyright?

    • Technically, you already control the copyright. What you’ve done is register your copyright. To answer your question though, I wouldn’t let the copyright registration process hold you back from making progress with your music — so yeah, go ahead and share.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Robert Cliff Aymer

    Hi Christopher, I have a track ready for release which has the same bass line and (basic) drum pattern as a Cameo song from the 80’s “Strange”. The rest of the song is different, in terms of the lyrics and arrangement. I think it would fall in the category of composition, but I am not sure whether this would apply where the song has some elements which are similar but not the same. There is no sampling of the original track from Cameo in my song.
    Can you shed any light on whether I would need to seek any permission regarding this please?

  • artemis

    Hi Christopher, I have a friend who’s getting ready to release an album that incorporates a number of samples of recordings, mainly from science-related sources (Carl Sagan, NASA, etc). He’s concerned about sample clearance, and not sure how to find the publisher and/or owner(s) of the recordings. Because we don’t have names of many of the recordings, it’s hard to look them up by title. Any suggestions on how to locate the people through whom he would be able to clear his samples? Thanks so much!

  • Probably so. If it’s recognizable from an existing track, you’d need permission from the publisher to create a “derivative work” which draws on elements of their song.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Robert Cliff Aymer

      Thanks for that. Really appreciated.
      I will do that.
      Cheers.

  • Well, I’m not a lawyer, so this is just my assumption — but if they’re all science-related sources, there’s a good chance that many of those samples are in the Public Domain. Publicly released photos, video, and audio from government agencies (like NASA) and some schools are usually able to be used by artists without $$ or attribution. But you might want to just do a little more research before releasing the album, to be sure.

    @ChrisRobley

    • artemis

      Thanks very much Christopher, this is helpful info!

  • Scientific Songs of Praise

    If you change the lyrics of a song, is it necesarily a derivative work,
    or could you simply use mechanical licencing as a cover version?

    You are re-recording the artists original melody in this case, but changing all the lyrics.

  • That is always a “derivative work,” so it requires the permission of the publisher/songwriter. You could argue Fair Use, but that’s a risky strategy.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Greg Manuel

    Hi Christopher I’m a British film maker interested in covering an Arctic Monkeys song for my short film. I have looked online to see if this would be possible but am still not too sure.
    How likely would EMI ( the publishers of Arctic Monkeys) give a student short film permission?

    Thank you!

    Greg

  • Well, I’m not certain, but I think the publisher will ask you to pay a hefty licensing fee. Though the good news is, you only need the permission of the publisher/songwriter if it’s a cover version, and you can bypass licensing the master recording from the label!

    @ChrisRobley

    • Greg Manuel

      I see. Thanks for the info Christopher. Much appreciated!

    • Someone else

      Hi Chris – I have a question. I wrote an album and all the keyboards for the album but I had someone else play the keyboards. All of the actual keyboard parts were my creation (except for a 4 bar measure here and there of some added sound efx he did). None of what he added other than a 16 bar piano solo were of his creation. Now he is demanding that I not use his performance on the album. I had someone else replay everything and he is no longer on the album. He is saying he doesn’t want his “intellectual property” used. From what I know, it isn’t his intellectual property correct? It is mine since I am the one that wrote all of the music. He just performed it. There was also no money exchanged, no contracts and no agreements for any sharing of any royalties. He lives in another country. I live in the US. I also might add only 4 songs have keyboards on them out of 10. Most of what he played on the album are sound efx that he copied from what I originally wrote. His piano solo was based off the melody I wrote as well. Hope you can shed some light on this. Also, he was never a member of the band. Just a friend of our ex drummer (which is why he no longer wants to be a part of the project).

      Thank you

  • Dustin

    Hi Christopher quick question. I want to use a hook from a song and put it on another beat, make a remix, who and how do I do so?

  • If you’re using the original recording, you need to get the permission of the publisher/songwriter AND the owner of the master recording. Both parties can grant or deny you permission, and set the terms for proceeding, which might involve upfront $, points on the sales, an ownership share of your song, etc.

    If you plan to re-record the hook, you don’t need the permission for the sample, since it’s technically not a sample anymore — BUT you would still need the permission of the publisher/songwriter.

    @ChrisRobley

  • If you’re using the original recording, you need to get the permission of the publisher/songwriter AND the owner of the master recording. Both parties can grant or deny you permission, and set the terms for proceeding, which might involve upfront $, points on the sales, an ownership share of your song, etc.

    If you plan to re-record the hook, you don’t need the permission for the sample, since it’s technically not a sample anymore — BUT you would still need the permission of the publisher/songwriter.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Well, if you never had any contracts, and no money was exchanged, I’d say just remove all his keyboard parts and replace them (which is sounds like you’ve done), and then, for those few bars here and there where he did create something original, just replace those too — with new parts. That erases his contribution from the equation, and you can go ahead and release your music. That’s not legal advice, mind you. Just my thoughts.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Well, if you never had any contracts, and no money was exchanged, I’d say just remove all his keyboard parts and replace them (which is sounds like you’ve done), and then, for those few bars here and there where he did create something original, just replace those too — with new parts. That erases his contribution from the equation, and you can go ahead and release your music. That’s not legal advice, mind you. Just my thoughts.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Derek Gjovig

    Hey Chris,

    Forgive me if someone already asked this, but I have a cover band, and only want to use short samples of several tunes to create a demo for our website… What might that entail license-wise?

    And, does the length of sample have anything to do with it? I’ve noticed that most sites are pretty uniform lengths, but it’s usually on purchasing site’s like Amazon or iTunes…

    Derek

  • Technically, you’d still need to get a mechanical license to distribute those songs on your site (even if they’re for free, and even if they’re just snippets).

    One way to MAYBE get around that (and this is NOT legal advice) is to post your cover song performances on YouTube, let YouTube’s Content ID system find and monetize those videos on behalf of the songs’ publishers, cross your fingers that you don’t dinged with a copyright violation, and then, if all is well, embed those videos on your site.

    Again, not legal advice, so you might want to consult some experts before proceeding, but that’s one possible solution.

    @ChrisRobley

  • If for example my bands instrumentation isn’t the same as the original, for example a rock band covering a big band song would the fact I’ve changed the instruments make it derivative.

    The track is the same structure, melody and lyrics as the original. would I just need to get a mechanical license without requiring permission.

  • No, you can take certain liberties with the arrangement and instrumentation. You just can’t make significant changes to the melody or lyrics.

    Sounds like you’d be find getting the mechanical license.

    @ChrisRobley

  • ellenb

    Hi Christopher,
    I recorded a cover tune and secured the appropriate license rights through HFA. My band modified an arrangement I had heard by a recording artist, so the notes and instrumentation are not the same, but if someone had heard the recording artist’s version, they may think my version sounds similar (at least in the “A” sections of the song). Do I need permission from the record label to sing a similar arrangement? I’m not using the sound recording in any way. Thanks.

    • Well, these things can get a little into the gray area, but I’d say if you’re performing a cover song that is recognizable (like, someone who knows the original would say “Ah, that’s such-and-such song”) then you’re probably fine getting the compulsory mechanical license. If you DO change the composition to such a degree that it’s not a cover song, but a derivative work, you’d need the permission of the publisher/songwriter, NOT the label.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Josiah

    Wow, I’m amazed at how many questions you are answering, so here’s another. I would like to reference lyrics from a Van Morrison song “Cleaning Windows” in a song I wrote. His lyrics say “what’s my line, I’m a working man in my prime, cleaning windows”. Mine would say “Hey Van, what’s that line? “I’m a working man in my prime, cleaning windows.”” Do I need a license for such a short set of lyrics, and since I’m giving him credit within the song? Thanks!

  • Josiah

    Wow, I’m amazed at how many questions you are answering, so here’s another. I would like to reference lyrics from a Van Morrison song “Cleaning Windows” in a song I wrote. His lyrics say “what’s my line, I’m a working man in my prime, cleaning windows”. Mine would say “Hey Van, what’s that line? “I’m a working man in my prime, cleaning windows.”” Do I need a license for such a short set of lyrics, and since I’m giving him credit within the song? Thanks!

    • This is from our Director of Publishing, Rob Filomena:

      Unfortunately there no definitive legal justifications for using one copyrighted work in another without permission. However, depending on how much of the lyrics you’re using and the specific type of use, there are a couple of copyright doctrines that may make some uses allowed under the law without explicitly getting consent. The problem is that you never know beforehand with much certainty if these will apply, and so the question becomes whether it is worth the risk.

      One doctrine is fair use. Fair use is determined by looking at 4 factors, all done after the fact in court: (1) the purpose and character of the use (is it commercial in nature, or say, educational); (2) the nature of the original copyrighted work itself, such as is it factual or creative; (3) the amount (and importance to the new work) of the copyrighted work being utilized; and (4) whether the new use has a detrimental impact on the value of the original work. There is no predictable balancing of these that works or doesn’t; it’s purely circumstantial.

      Another doctrine is the “de minims” defense, in which the copying of the protected material is so trivial as to fall below a measurable threshold. To be de minimus, however, the use of copyrighted material must be extremely small. Again, this is something that’s hard to judge in advance.

      Hope that helps. Sounds like it boils down to: think hard beforehand, maybe consult with an attorney, and if you proceed without permission, brace yourself, cross your fingers, and hope nothing happens.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Darryl Sandell

    Hi Chris,
    So I want to see if I have this clear. First off, my intent is to record an album of 12 songs (once I have wrote/mastered my drums), 9 or 10 would be covers and 2-3 would be originals (one may be a parody). So I want to be clear:

    If I get the mechanical license for the 9-10 songs and recreate the songs and put them on an album (CD), am I covered? If I am NOT using an original recording but a recreation, I do not need a master use license, correct?
    I also understand, If a music video of my cover is made, I need a sync license, right?

    If I made a parody song on my album, do I need permission from the original artist (say Van Halen), or would this fall under fair use?

    Also, say some of the covers were songs from a movie soundtrack, would I need further licenses, or would the mechanical license suffice?

    And as a side note, would I need a music publisher to sell my album? (I plan on using CD baby, so I know things like IRSC and UPC would be done for me) or can I sell and promote on my own?

  • So, for the cover songs, you just need to secure the standard cover song license (mechanical license) to distribute those tracks. When it comes to putting those songs on YouTube, you technically need a sync license, BUT… many publishers are happy to just use YouTube’s Content ID system to collect ad revenue from your video (rather than requiring you to remove it, which does occasionally happen). For the parody song, you MAY be okay under fair use, but that’s also an IF — and it’s something you won’t know in advance. More of something that gets sorted out later in court. The safest upfront way to address it is to contact Van Halen’s publisher and request permission to create a “derivative work.” Be warned, though. They can say no and prevent you from distributing the song. Or they can say sure, and then demand any fee or percentage that they want. Once you get all that worked out, you do NOT need a publisher or label to sell your music. You can sign it up with CD Baby and we’ll distribute it worldwide.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Darryl Sandell

      Thanks so much for the advice, that helps a lot. Real quick, for a sync license, would that be similar to the derivative work, meaning I’d go through the publisher and they could say yes or no and also charge whatever they want?

      Also, I wanted to check on this: Some of the songs I’d like to do are from a movie soundtrack (Queen’s Flash Gordon), I know on the soundtrack CD, a lot of the songs have snippets from the movie, would that be an additional license I would need for the soundbites from the movie, or are they covered under the mechanical license since they were part of the song?

  • Frank Angelini

    Here’s a question: If I want to use a song in a webseries, and I have sent emails to the owners of the lyrics and recordings in question asking to license it but they are not responding to the multiple queries, can I legally
    use the music if I have made a reasonable effort to get in touch with them (assuming I have gone through all the correct channels for doing so?).

  • Nope. You still need permission. It’s like, you can’t go into someone’s house and borrow their computer just because they didn’t answer the doorbell. Have you contacted the artist, label, songwriter, and publisher? Seems like if you could get in touch with just one of them, they might be able to get you in contact with the other relevant parties.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Julian Lavelle

    Question I sampled from bob marleys song, “rat race, who would I have to contact to get sample clearance on that song, this is actually my first time trying to get clearance and for him it is hard to find.

    • You’d need to get the permission of both his label and publisher.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Joan Stevenson

    How does this apply/work for a vocalist using karaoke tracks?

  • Jay Zimmermann

    Hi Christopher – what a great thread. Thanks so much for your all your info.

    My question: What if an artist composes and performs all his own music, but has assigned their own compositions to be administered by an outside publisher (for example, Sony ATV)? In that case, wouldn’t the mechanicals have to be paid to the publisher, who would then distribute it back to the artist after taking their cut? Thanks in advance….

  • Writer’s would only need to sign up with HFA if they are also the publisher. HFA pays publishers the entirety of the mechanical royalty as there is no explicit division between writer and publisher share with these royalties as you have with public performance. The writer would get their share of mechanicals from their publisher based on the particulars of their deal. So to answer your question, yes, that’s correct. Your publishing administrator would collect the mechanicals.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Christopher Cotta

    Hi Christopher. I’m trying to figure out how to register a recording my great grandfather made when he visited the Azores back in the 50s. BMI takes 2 months to get back with me, with no clear answer. I have a song that begins with a 15-second sample of the recording, but I don’t really know how to go about dealing with the sample. BMI asked if i could split the two and register them as separate works, but then they never got back to me after that. They answered my question with a question. The sample in question is a group of school children singing call & response style “Mary bless our village” or something similar, in Portuguese. Any suggestions?

  • That’s a whole other complicated situation. You would need to negotiate with the creator of the karoake track if you wanted to use it in a cover song track. They have the right to say no, or to charge you what they want for the use of the master recording.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Phil

      I perform live shows to school age children at public libraries and schools.

      I sing to 5 “cover” karaoke tracks in these live performances. All copyrighted material. (Example: Disney’s…Under the Sea, BEATLES…Here Comes the Sun).
      I am not recording anything.

      I get paid about $100 for each performance.
      What type of license do I need in order to be legal? Ascap or BMI?
      Or do I ask permission from the karaoke producer…as you mention ed?
      Thanks for your input.

  • Sorry for the long delay in responding. So… yes, it’s a similar process for sync. You ask permission, and they can grant/deny and set terms.

    As for using audio clips from the movie, you’d definitely need the rights from the movie studio that produced the film in order to use those snippets. If you re-recorded them yourself (so you’re not using the master recording) then MAYBE you’d be okay to include them in the song, though even for the Queen songs it sounds like they were kind of extra-compositional elements that were sampled from the film, so I don’t know if the dialog or whatever gets included with the mechanical license when covering the tune. Might be a question for a legal expert.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Well, I don’t have an expert opinion. But I’m curious: is the song the kids are singing in the public domain? If so, I’d say that your grandfather (or his estate) owns the rights to the master recording, and then it seems like you’d be fine using it, since the recording was his and they song was in the public domain… hopefully?

    @ChrisRobley

  • ZK

    So, it seems subjective to me as to what determines a reproduction as a cover song or derivative work. I want to make orchestra like instrumentals of copyrighted Christian music. The melodies would essentially be the same but different instruments would be used with varying tempo changes,, key changes, and sub-melodies would be used to make everything more orchestra like. I think it is a cover song, but what if the copyright holders disagree. How does anyone determine if that would be a cover song or a derivative work?

    • Sounds like you’re just wanting to make an orchestral cover version. Doesn’t sound like a derivative work to me, but yes — it can be a bit subjective.

      @ChrisRobley

    • Sounds like you’re just wanting to make an orchestral cover version. Doesn’t sound like a derivative work to me, but yes — it can be a bit subjective.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Gaijinman

    My band’s founder lost a long battle with cancer. He wanted me to release the most recent album in his honor. Had had not written any will, but he has asked me to be responsible for promoting and releasing his music. I had done minor collaboration work on this album and am one of the performing artists.

    For listing Copyright… would I use his name and band name… or would it be fair, prudent or otherwise advisable to add my name as an individual with his and the band name?

  • Performing rights societies put the burden of licensing on the venues performing the works, not the musicians themselves. You don’t need to worry about it if you’re just performing the songs. Whether the venues are licensed or exempt for some reason is another story, though.

    @ChrisRobley

  • That’s a tough one. Are you acting as his label in any way, funding the release? If so, maybe. But I can see that being a sensitive issue. Does he have children or a spouse you can talk it over with?

    @ChrisRobley

  • That’s a tough one. Are you acting as his label in any way, funding the release? If so, maybe. But I can see that being a sensitive issue. Does he have children or a spouse you can talk it over with?

    @ChrisRobley

    • Gaijinman

      Very much appreciate your response. I’m in regular contact with his siblings who know and approve of my efforts to release the album. He does have at least one son that I’ve NOT contacted… and an ex wife. He had settled a divorce with her and moved in with an old girlfriend where he was at the time he passed away.

  • I think if you fund any of the project — mastering, duplication, and such — you have an argument for putting your name as a copyright holder to the sound recording. NOT the songs themselves (publishing) unless you actually co-wrote songs with him. Hope everything works out with the release. Sounds like a noble project to keep his music alive.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Gaijinman

      Thank you VERY much… Really appreciate your guidance!

  • Mike D

    Hi Christopher, My band wants to record a beach boys song and post the recording online for free. We will not make any profit of the song, I just want to post it on my bands bandcamp for free streaming. I heard the Beach boys copyright owners are a little on the nutty side with taking things down off the internet due to copyright issues etc. I fully plan to write in the song description that it was Written by Brian Wilson etc and it will be free. However I also don’t want it to get taken down off the internet. So I want to cover my butt. Is there a type of license I can get for just posting something online for free? If so can I apply and pay online on a website somewhere?

    • You’d still need to secure the standard mechanical license for digital copies (DPDs). It doesn’t matter if you sell the song or give it away online. The publisher is still owed the same amount for every copy downloaded.

      @ChrisRobley

  • What an interesting and informative thread. The distinction between compositions and sound recordings can help musicians begin making decisions about licensed material right from the beginning.

  • tatonomusic

    Hey Christopher, what if my band recorded an instrumental that sounds “somewhat” close to a song performed by another artist? And what if that song were signed to a sync license for a tv network? Would we have to get permission from the original artist? (No lyrics were just playing similar notes in the intro)

    • Tough to say. It’d all come down to a court decision, based on a judge or jury’s concept of what sounds like something else. Gray areas! I hear plenty of instances of instrumental tracks licensed to TV commercials where I say to myself, “Oh, the producer or director asked for something that sounded like such-and-such song,…” and I’m amazed that they don’t get sued. But obviously it’s a somewhat common practice.

      @ChrisRobley

      • tatonomusic

        Thanks so much for the reply.

  • Brady Swensen

    If I obtain a license for a song through cd baby can I sell the song in any other venue outside of cd baby? And also can I create music videos of the song that is licensed? Also how long is the license good for? Thanks

    • Did you obtain a standard mechanical license through one of our cover song licensing partners? If so, you CAN sell the song in other places besides CD Baby. You just need to monitor your sales and renew your license whenever you’ve sold through (or are about to sell through) the quantity of CDs or downloads you’ve covered in your original license agreement.

      @ChrisRobley

  • britney porter

    This is helpful. Question….what if I just recreate instrumental tracks for cover tunes and sell them….should I obtain a license?

    • Like, you’re selling them as karaoke tracks? I’m not sure if that constitutes a cover song or a derivative work, so you might want to ask for some expert legal advice. Lemme know what you find out!

      @ChrisRobley

  • Reisa Winston Hannig

    Hi Chris, my husband and I (singer and tenor sax player) use instrumental songs and backing tracks to put our lyrics/melody and sax rides over. Is this a derivative work? We’re not changing the instrumentation, but creating a vocal song with sax rides over it. What type of licensing would we need to publish or sell our music? Thanks in advance.

    • Did you write new lyrics to the song? If so, it’s a derivative work, and you’ll need the permission of the publisher/songwriter. If not, and you’re just singing the existing lyrics to the song, but using backing tracks… then you’d just need the permission of the party that created the tracks (since you’re essentially sampling).

      @ChrisRobley

  • Kellsey

    HI Christopher, if I wanted to start a business singing Disney songs, using background Karaoke music at children’s birthday parties while cosplaying as a Disney character, what licenses would I need?

    • That’s a question for a lawyer. I think you might need a few different permissions since you’re basing the whole presentation around the intellectual property of a single company.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Shezan

    Hi Christopher Good Blog. however i do have one question which is important to me at least.
    Im doing few cover songs recorded few already but one thing that i want to confirm is that I’m changing the language of the song, Means if its in English id probably be doing it in Punjabi, Or Hindi like bollywood stuff. What license do i need for that for cover song. I want to make its videos as well and not sell it I’d be giving it away for free. Can you please guide me on this. Because i heard that you can’t change the lyrics of the song. So even if im changing a language of the song its changing lyrics right? so im confused what should i be doing. I see a lot of people has done this already and they are not even into any legal trouble no one even got any copyrights. Youtube just send notification your account is not in trouble you just can’t monetize it because it has content from some other artist or company.
    A lil help here pelase
    Thanks

    • I’m pretty sure translations are not considered cover songs. They’re “derivative works,” meaning you’d need the permission of the publisher to proceed with distributing the song (even for free).

      @ChrisRobley

  • Liam

    Good day chris, Im wondering on the limits of using a Instrumental Remake of a song off Kanye West mixtape. It would be with new lyrics and for non profit only published on apps like Soundcloud, Youtube ect. Thoughts on this?

    • You’d be creating a derivative work which requires the permission of the publisher. They can deny permission, or grant it according to terms THEY set.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Jerry

    Hi Christopher, Thanks for the knowledge. My wife has been teaching a children’s class with Mommies and young children. Her materials a CD & Booklet are provided by an established company . She has been asked to conduct a class for a group privately. She wants to do the right thing ethically and not use the materials of the company that she works for so….how does she secure publishing rights to a selection of children’s songs whether public domain or by “Raffi”?

    • That sounds like a question for a lawyer, but… if it’s a private class to learn music and doesn’t have any public performance aspect, I don’t know if she’d need to worry about it.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Ed Smith

    Hey Chris – I’m in a Celtic rock band and we’ve recorded an old Irish/Canadian folk song called “Sarah” in the public domain (no known composer) where the traditional version is a Capella but our version is a 5-piece band with reharmonized chords. What are the steps we’d need to take from a legal perspective to distribute this digitally and stream it via Spotify/Apple Music, etc. Internationally? We’ve already got a mechanical license from SOCAN… Any guidance would be appreciated!

    • If the song is truly in the Public Domain, you don’t need to worry about anything. No mechanical license is required. You have the right to arrange the song how you see fit, and distribute it worldwide.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Jarrod

    At what point does a cover become a derivative work? If I sing a high note instead of a low (different octave)? If I eliminate an interlude? If I add an interlude? If I eliminate a verse? Add harmonic vocals? Sing in a different key? Play a few different chords between verses, etc? Thank you for your time.

    • It’s a gray area, and often those grays get sorted out in court. Generally I think of it like: are you making significant changes to the melody or lyrics? If not, it’s probably a cover song. Chordal stuff, adding interludes,… that should all be fine. Not sure about omitting a verse. Best to ask an legal expert though.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Helen Goodchild

    Do I need to get Print Licenses in order to print cover song lyrics in a CD insert booklet? And how do I get such licenses?

  • If you change the melody and lyrics it is not a cover song, but a “derivative work.” Releasing a derivative work requires the permission of the publisher, who can deny it, or grant it according to terms THEY set. I would definitely recommend reaching out to them FIRST. If you distribute the music (even for free) without their permission, they can force you to remove it forever, plus sue you for infringement.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Well, I’m not a lawyer, so that decision is really up to you. I’m just talking from a strictly legal perspective. I understand artists are releasing stuff that borrows elements from other songs all the time without permission. But even if you’re not a popular artist, and even if you give the song away for free and never make a cent from it, it’s still infringement (without the permission of the publisher).

    @ChrisRobley

    • Lucas

      Hey Christopher I understand your point. Thx a lot!

  • You don’t need permission from the publisher in order to release a cover song. You just need to pay for the appropriate mechanical license in order to distribute the song. I would check out http://members.cdbaby.com/license-cover-song.aspx.

    @ChrisRobley

  • I’d suggest consulting with an attorney to be sure of all this, but I’m pretty sure you don’t need to get any licenses. The venues should be paying their fees to PROs such as ASCAP and BMI, which would grant performers the right to play cover songs in their establishment. That being said, you might run into licensing issues if you were a tribute act who based your whole career on the songs, name, or image of a single existing act.

    As for the samples, I’m not sure. I THINK you’re probably fine, but again, probably best to check with a lawyer before y’all’s gig calendar gets super full.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Hi Rene,

    It’s tough to find a streamlined process for licensing parodies since, as you said, they’re derivative works and not technically cover songs. That leaves you with the somewhat daunting task of contacting the publishers for permission, and negotiating the terms of the license if they’re interested in granting permission. I don’t envy you that task! Wish I could be more help, but derivative works come with a whole complicated set of potential copyright issues. Good luck.

    @ChrisRobley

  • JerseyCat

    If you want an easy to navigate site for royalty free music, try http://www.freemusicpublicdomain.com/

  • Just to cover all the bases, I would suggest putting the writer/publishiner/copyright date somewhere in the liner notes. As for the back cover art, I think it’s fine to put the song title with the writer in parentheses “In the Dark with You” (Greg Brown).

    @ChrisRobley

  • If it’s just changes to arrangement, groove, and such – it’s still a cover song. You only get into the derivative territory by changing the lyrics or making significant changes to the melody.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Katcya Khakhaeva

    Hi! I finally got confused. If i’m making piano cover to rock song – is or cover or derivative song? for example, i make song played with guitars, drums and voice , without piano at all – and make my own version with piano. without drums, voice etc

    What kind of licence need I to get?

    Have i first ASK . before i make smth with song?

    And if i want to sell my arrangement – what should i do?

    Thanx

    • That sounds like a cover song to me, NOT a derivative work. You’re just changing the arrangement of the song, which is fine for cover songs. You can secure a standard mechanical license for that before distributing.

      @ChrisRobley

  • That’s definitely a derivative work. You would need to get the permission of the publisher and negotiate terms for ownership, royalty splits, etc. To find the publisher, check the liner notes on that original recording, or look at the databases of BMI, ASCAP, or Harry Fox.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Wow! That’s a new one for me. I’m actually not sure. I’d start by asking Loudr, Easy Song Licensing, or Harry Fox. If they can’t guide you in the right direction, maybe ask an attorney.

    @ChrisRobley

  • The license to distribute the cover song is the easy part. You’d just license it via Loudr, Harry Fox, Easy Song Licensing, etc. But using the song in your film is trickier. You need to get a sync license from the publisher of the song. That means getting permission, negotiating terms, etc.

    @ChrisRobley

  • That’s a great question, and I don’t know the answer. Obviously the venue should’ve paid their license fees to the PROs which keeps you safe for the live portion (and if all the songwriters are filing their set lists for each show to their PROs, they’ll get payment), but I’m not sure on the broadcast in terms of how FB or YT track, report, or pay for broadcasts of live sets. You could always inquire with Facebook, YouTube, the Pros, or a lawyer,… but (and this is NOT legal advice) you could also just start broadcasting and see what happens, especially since you have all the songwriters on board for the project.

    @ChrisRobley

    @ChrisRobley

  • I’m not sure what limitations you might have on registering a copyright for a derivative work, but it’s worth trying. At least you’ll have the protection on the sound recording and your portion of the new composition.

    And yes, they would probably want to hear the track before considering your request.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Well again, I’m no lawyer, so it’s probably best to get an attorney to answer these questions with certainty, but here’s my take:

    * They will probably want to hear what you’ve written before anything else happens.
    * You own the copyright to your work as soon as it’s fixed (on record, on paper, etc.), so it’s up to you whether you want to register that copyright with the LoC.
    * They’re going to want to hear the whole thing, including the parts that show how you’re using their existing composition.
    * They can say yes or no as they please, and they can set any terms they like (in terms of ownership splits).
    * There is a chance they’ll just say no. Or that you’ll never hear from them. That is a common problem when trying to contact big publishers.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Permission to record/distribute a cover song is one thing; that’s something you can license through Loudr, Harry Fox, Easy Song Licensing, etc.

    But getting a sync license to put the song in your film, that’s another. You need the permission of the publisher, and negotiate terms from there. Plus, they can always say no — even if you’ve made your own recording of the song.

    @ChrisRobley

  • I’m not a lawyer, so this isn’t foolproof advice, but I think you’re fine to do that as long as it’s only for live performance. Obviously if you release a recording of that song, you’d need to get a mechanical license. If you’re writing a new song based on that existing one, you need the permission of the publisher (and negotiate ownership splits) since you’d be creating a derivative work.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Lucas

    Hey u can i sampler Bernard Herrmann Prelude (Psycho Theme)?

  • Did you add existing lyrics to a new instrumental composition? If so, you created what is called a “derivative work,” and you’d need the publisher’s (of the song you took the lyrics from) permission to distribute that.

    @ChrisRobley

  • I’m not a lawyer, so technically, I’m not sure if you’re required to pay any kind of P.R.O. fees. In practice, though, since it’s a one-time event, I think you should just play the block party and perform the music you want to perform.

    Follow me on Twitter at @ChrisRobley

  • I’m pretty sure medleys are considered “derivative works” — and not standard cover songs — and are thus NOT protected by the compulsory mechanical license. You’d have to get the permission of the publisher first (and then negotiate terms from there).

    Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisRobley

  • From a legal standpoint, that’s probably a gray area in terms of which remixes would constitute a cover song, which would constitute a derivative work, and which are new compositions altogether that simply sample elements from the original song’s sound recording. BUT… I always assume that a remixer has been in contact with the original song’s creator/label to talk about remixing the track, and that any discussions about $$ or splits would follow from there. (Or the original artist has simply made tracks available for remixing with explicit information about how ownership and royalties should be divided).

    So, the short answer is: I think that’d go case-by-case.

    Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisRobley

  • Wow. That IS an interesting scenario. I assume you’re talking about MIDI files of cover songs performed live? Honestly, I’d ask a lawyer about that one, though it’s a really unique niche. Do you have much of a market for that kind of file? If so, I’d love to hear more about it: your fans, how you create and sell the files, etc.

    Also, thanks for reading and commenting!

    Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisRobley

  • So you want to add original lyrics to an existing instrumental track? That’s complicated, because not only are you using an existing recording, but you’d be creating a derivative work (NOT a cover song). Now, if you’re not selling or distributing this song in any form, there’s less to worry about. But if you’re putting on a show and getting paid for a performance that uses this derivative work (and the sampled recording), there is probably reason for caution. Better to ask a lawyer upfront, or to approach the publishers/label for the existing song, and work out the details ahead of time, rather than get sued down the line.

    Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisRobley

  • Andrew Shoemaker

    This was very helpful.

    I used easysonglicensing.com to obtain a mechanical license for a song I’m going to cover and distribute.

    The website lays it all out for you and shows you all of your options for formats.
    I was surprised that I got a real person on the phone when I called their 1-800 Number.