Posting Cover Songs on YouTube: Music Licensing Law Explained

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[This article was written by entertainment attorney and indie artist Christiane Cargill Kinney. If you have questions for her, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below or send them to her at]

 Q:  My band got a mechanical license to record a cover version of a popular song.  We shot an awesome music video for it and posted it on YouTube, and got tons of hits.  It’s been up for a couple years now, and suddenly we got a take-down notice the other day.  Since we are using our version of the song in the music video, doesn’t the mechanical license cover us here? 

A:  Cover songs can be a great way to gain attention from a wider fan base in the indie arena.  However, assuming that a single license is going to cover you for every usage of the song is kind of like assuming that your doctor will accept pet insurance to treat your laryngitis.  You’re dealing with two (or more) completely different animals.  (Get it?  Pet insurance, animals … okay, moving on).

In all seriousness, this topic touches on an extremely common misconception that I frequently run across in the indie world. Let me start with a copyright refresher.

Many of you may already be familiar with the concept that there are two distinct forms of copyright for musical works:

(1) there is the copyright in the song itself (e.g., words and music), or the work intended to be performed (registered with the Copyright Office through a Form PA), and

(2) there is a separate copyright in the sound recording for that song (registered through a Form SR).

Once a musician records and publishes a song, anyone is free to do their own cover version of that song, without the artist’s permission, by obtaining a mechanical or “compulsory” license and paying the statutory royalty fee for that song (currently calculated on a penny basis of 9.1¢ per song, paid per digital or physical units sold).  The statutory rate is a bit higher if you go over 5 minutes, but do we really need more songs like “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” when we have things like social media eating up our free time instead? Since this impacts your right to cover someone else’s song, as well as someone else’s right to cover YOUR songs (you never thought about that before, did you?), let me briefly explain what it means to “publish” a song.

Publication under the Copyright Act is defined as:

” …the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending.  The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.”

Aw, now I miss phonorecords.  Anyway, what this means in layman’s terms is that performing a song live before you have put it on a publicly distributed album does not expose the song to the mechanical license scheme; however, as soon as it hits CD Baby / iTunes / Borders (oh, never mind), it is fair game for all the cover artists waiting in the wings. Now, this is good news and bad news. Good for any indie artist (say that five times fast) who wants to gain popularity by covering a hit song. Bad for any indie artist who doesn’t want someone else to sully their own creative work.  But let’s not worry about that for now.  To quote Brendan Behan, “There is no such thing as bad publicity, except your own obituary.”

Promote Your Music on Youtube

In your case, you probably went through Harry Fox Agency ( or Limelight (CD Baby’s partner for cover-song licensing) to secure a mechanical license for the song, allowing you to record your own version and distribute it to your fans, and you paid a statutory royalty fee based on estimated unit sales of that song. If that’s the case, you did exactly the right thing.  The music video, however, is where things went south, just like a bunch of directionally-challenged trout during mating season.  (I must be on an animal kick today; I see a running theme here …) When you attempt to “synch” a sound recording of a song with any audio/visual element, you also need to obtain a synchronization (“synch”) license. This is a separate, negotiable license that allows you to use a particular piece of music in “synch” with other visual elements, such as in your music video. This would also be the case if you were filming a live performance of your band performing the cover song (and you’ll need a public performance license for that too, unless the venue has the necessary blanket licenses in order). You also need a re-print license to include the lyrics to the cover song in your album liner notes.

There are about as many music licenses as there are “Beliebers” (okay, not that many), and they each serve different purposes. Why? Well, let’s go back to the whole concept of two distinct copyrights to help put things in perspective. Remember, not only is a sound recording of a particular song copyrighted, but the song (words and music) is copyrighted as well. You’re not “synching” someone else’s sound recording for your music video; however, you are “synching” someone else’s song.

The owner of the copyright in that song holds certain exclusive rights under copyright law, including the exclusive right to reproduce, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies, to publicly perform, and to publicly display the work, until that work falls into the public domain.  In your case, you obtained a license to reproduce and distribute the work through the mechanical license scheme.  I am assuming based on your question that you did not obtain a synch license in order to publicly perform the work in synchronization with your music video.  That is a separate license (and a separate exclusive right) that needs to be negotiated directly with the copyright holder.  So, technically, even if you create the entire performance and recording yourself, you still need both the mechanical and synch license to legally publish a cover song on YouTube or any other video site, unless it falls within public domain (don’t assume!), or if it was published under a creative commons license allowing for free re-use.

YouTube is required by law to have a number of broadcast licenses, and some people assume that, as YouTube users, they are covered by these broadcast licenses.  They are not.  The licenses cover the broadcasting of each video; they do not, however, cover the uploader’s responsibility to secure all of the necessary licenses and clearances required before publishing their video.  You are warranting that you have cleared all necessary rights to the video when you upload or publish it to YouTube.  Under YouTube’s Help section, it explains its policy on copyright infringement: “YouTube respects the rights of copyright holders and publishers and requires all users to confirm they own the copyright or have permission from the copyright holder to upload content. We comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and other applicable copyright laws and promptly remove content when properly notified.  Repeat infringers’ videos are removed and their accounts are terminated and permanently blocked from using YouTube…”

So, you didn’t get your synch license.  What happens now?  Well, we’ve all seen tons of examples that suggest that doing cover songs is largely tolerated on YouTube.  However, a certain tolerance does not make the activity legal.  If YouTube receives a copyright infringement complaint from the publisher or owner of the song, as likely happened in your case, it may take down your video and give you a copyright strike. After multiple strikes, your channel gets deleted.  So, posting covers without the proper license means you risk losing your channel.  It also opens you up to the possibility of a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Now, on a positive note, YouTube has deals with many record and publishing companies through its Content ID Program.  Under this program, at the copyright owner’s sole discretion, YouTube may monetize your video with advertisements rather than take it down, with the copyright owner getting a share of the profits.  When a video of yours is found to be in copyright violation, it’s up to the copyright owner as to whether the video will be monetized or removed. When all is said and done, the smartest move is to negotiate directly with the copyright holder of the musical work to get a synch license.

Ask if they will give it to you free of charge if the video is purely being used for promotional purposes via YouTube and your band’s various websites.  Some will, some won’t – but it’s worth a shot, and then you can show YouTube your licenses and get your video back up and running for the whole world to enjoy!

So, let’s do a quick recap on what we’ve learned.

* If you want to record a cover song and promote it on YouTube, you need to secure a mechanical license AND a synchronization license, and should do so before spending the money recording the song and shooting a music video.

* If a mistake has already been made and you didn’t get the necessary licenses before recording a cover song and/or shooting a music video, you can rectify this by:

— Contacting the Harry Fox Agency for the necessary mechanical license, and

— Contacting the copyright owner to negotiate a reasonable rate for the synch license after the fact (though your bargaining power is greatly diminished).

* If your video hasn’t been taken down by YouTube yet, you can always hope that the copyright owner will choose to monetize your video, but that’s a riskier proposition.

* We also learned that we all miss phonorecords, and it’s hard to say “good for any indie artist” five times fast.  That’s really the take-away here.

Now roll the fine print. © 2012 Christiane Cargill Kinney.  All rights reserved.  This Blog contains information of a general nature that is not intended to be legal advice and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice.  Any reader of this Blog who has legal matters involving information addressed in this Blog should consult with an experienced entertainment attorney.  This Blog does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader of this Blog. This Blog contains no warranties or representations that the information contained herein is true or accurate in all respects or that it is the most current or complete information on the subject matter covered. Christiane Cargill Kinney is a Partner and Chair of the Entertainment Industry Team of LeClairRyan, LLP.

Promote Your Music on Youtube

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  • So, in essence, If ANYONE record a cover song and puts it up on Youtube with a licence then they are doing so illegally and can expect Youtube to demand that they take it down…

    • Hi Nick! Chris is right; it’s not a certainty that they will take it down. Some original artists might see a cover song and dig what you did with it. Some labels/publishers might be part of YouTube’s Content ID program, and prefer to monetize a cover song video rather than take it down, which is really a win-win for everyone, because both artists end up getting exposure. But as I said in the article, it’s the copyright owner’s choice in the end. Synch licenses are negotiable licenses, so the owner always has a choice, and if they ask and you don’t have the proper licenses, it is YouTube’s policy to take down infringing content. Thanks for reading, and for your comment.

      • Albert

        Hi Christinane i need a synch license but cant find the publisher of Flaco Jimenez a texas singer. I have looked into different websites but no luck. Any advise would be appreciated.

  • Well, I'll leave it to the legal expert to answer this one proper, but… it's not a certainty that YouTube will demand you take it down.

  • All said and done, if an artist becomes unable to sell his creative wares, he or she can simply give away for free and get blessed by God otherwise. Uni Stars Of Colin:

  • Manny Mestas

    Very informative and made me more prudent in my postings of cover. thank you very much!

  • In simple words.

    1. If we want to cover a song, get a mechanical license.
    This, I know long ago.

    2. If we want to cover a song ON YOUTUBE, we need a sync license even that we re-record and reproduce the song. If my understanding is not wrong.

    Now, the question.

    Let say our cover version is MORE POPULAR than the original artist… do we get any % if OUR VERSION are to be sync in any movie, TV, video production?


  • The show/movie would need the permission (and need to pay) both the owner of the song (publisher) and the owner of the master recording (label, or… you?).

    • Yes, Christopher is right. That kind of arrangement is typically called a "Co-Publisher" agreement. I'm sure Christiane could fill you in legally, but the bottom line is that such an agreement usually allows a music supervision house (the people who were interested in buying and marketing your song to sell to a movie, TV show, game, etc) to enter into a direct contract with you to secure the "synch" rights to be paired with new media elsewhere.

      A practical and real example from us: Tim Ballard recorded Irving Berlin's "Change Partners" (album "Easy Does It") many years ago, and therefore secured the mechanical rights to cover the song so that the songwriter (or the songwriters' estate — note that copyrights can last for up to 75 years AFTER the death of the LAST surviving songwriter and can be renewed by an estate in perpetuity — Christiane, correct me if wrong!) have already been paid. However, last month, a music supervision house selected the song for placement into its general catalogue for marketing to its potential entertainment industry clients.

      The music supervision house sent us a "co-pub" contract that basically said IF our song were chosen by one their clients, all royalties would result in a 50/50 split from there on out. In the deal, TIMKAT and the music supervision house are both considered "publishers" (hence the name "co-pub"), and the movie studio would then buy the rights to the song from the music supervision house directly in a separate agreement.

      In any event, you should always be sure that the contract allows you to retain 100% control and rights over your recording and also of any masters. You should also ensure that the agreement is "non-exclusive" and that you can terminate the agreement in writing, should you be dissatisfied with the partnership. However, NEVER sign anything that gives away your master ownership rights to another authority!

      Finally, we learned that music supervision houses will often alter song titles so that they track the co-pub version with a PRO agencies such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. This to ensure that when the new name of the song ends up on a PRO report, everyone is paid according to contract for the version being used throughout the industry. As a further example, in our case, "Change Partners", which will forever be an Irving Berlin-written and copyrighted tune, will now be called "Switch Partners" within the music supervision house's catalogue. This title would be registered with ASCAP for royalties when used in other media.

      Best wishes,
      Kathryn Ballard Shut /shoot/
      TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
      Denver, CO, USA

      Twitter: @timkatent
      Facebook :

  • Great article. I think a good follow up would be to delve further into the monetization of youtube and how that affects this issue. You touch on it at the end offering it up as a possible alternate solution, but i think this would make a great article on it’s own… how the user-generated-content is monetized, the fingerprinting process, what labels are involved in this agreement (so indie artists have a rough idea of what’s fair game or not) etc…

  • Good suggestion. Thanks.

  • john

    Very helpful article. What if you record a cover and just place the audio file on your website – no video, no YouTube? Do you need just the mechanical license in this case?

    • PatanjaliS

      At least in Australia, you need to get a separate license to use a clip of no more than 30s (with a couple of secs).

      I don’t know what Amazon, iTunes et al do to aloow them to provide a clip.

  • Eddie Threat

    Youtube sent me a :matched content: for a cover we did with my one band, and it is blocked in :certain countries: is what it said. The main issue though is that it counted as a strike against my account, very uncool

  • Isla Dennis

    What about the situation where you've filmed your child at a school or music school gig or even at a public venue licensed for live music, performing a cover, and you want to post that on You Tube and link to it from a website or Facebook for promotional purposes?

    • Kirk Thomas

      I’d love to see more about this sort of thing and/or have someone explain the monetization in plain words for YouTube and/or AdSense.

      Although I have not posted any original materiel of my own, I’m the “unofficial videographer” of a couple of groups that play Sots/Irish music, Those that aren’t trad. tunes were written by the band, I have their full blessing to post. Some videos stay monetized, and some I get the email on that say that they have been disabled, but no rational explanation is given.

      I actually only made a challenge on one for the first time the other day (am less than a month old at this). How long does it take for a review of a challenge?

  • It's also worth noting that a number of artists have had their channels taken down for having their own content put up because of how YouTube finds copyright infringement. I just got a warning last week about putting up copyright violating material for a video for my own song.

    • This is a huge problem with the system mostly from bad code and somewhat from bad people trying to scam the holes in the system. You’re so not alone, and many more are in fear surely, so hopefully it will get sorted out. Good luck.

      Keep bringing up the issue! It definitely helps. I didn’t want to see your comment continue with no replies. We can’t let this go.

  • Thejimmedeirosband

    That clears everything up nicely Cheers!

  • Kyle Tippetts

    What are the similarities/differences between a cover and a remix? I'm a remixer and I've heard conflicting definitions and consequently conflicting advice on licensing requirements….

  • James Gilbert

    Not exactly cover songs, but I ran into problems on YouTube when I posted recordings (with still image video) of my own arrangements of the public domain tunes What Wondrous Love and The Entertainer and monetized them. Some artist & publishing organization and Warner music both claimed ownership. I've also had YouTube question and refuse to monetize my own compositions and my own visuals because they weren't satisfied when I checked all the right boxes and told them they were my own material. YouTube never did allow me to monetize my own material.YouTube is very inconsistent in its own policies.

    • Kirk Thomas

      In a very similar boat. Please keep us informed as to what you learn. I’m new to the whole monetizing process and find it circuitous and confusing on many fronts.

    • Margaret

      We have also had trouble monetizing on YouTube, even though the song is entirely original (with ISRC & BMI catalog number to prove it), the video is made by us, the performance is all ours, all the graphics are, etc. they keep saying it isn’t proven that it’s original material.

  • James Gilbert

    Funny comment system suddenly posted my message. Add this to it:

    One question already asked deserves an answer. What if I just upload audio to a cover song on my website, or just show a blank screen on YouTube. Does the mechanical license cover that or do we still need a synch license?

    • Yes, a great questions– I'm waiting for our guest legal expert to weigh in on that, though.

  • I think you said that if you were not selling downloads but using it just for promotions that this doesn’t fall under the mechanical or sync royalty requirements. But then later you said that it does, If I have no intention of recording the song on my own project or making it available for downloads or any distribution but just want to use it to promote me then do I need to do anything at all? All I am basically doing is promoting their song for free. It only helps them by giving their song more exposure.

    • Nick

      In terms of the law, it doesn’t matter. Whether you’re selling the video/performance, or simply using it for promotional purposes, you still need the licenses. Whether it can be streamed only or downloaded, you still need the licenses. Regardless of the use, any performance or recording, legally speaking, requires the copyright holders permission. The mechanical license scheme is just there to streamline the process, and attempt to balance the rights holder/third party performer relationship by removing the right of the holder to refuse performance while still guaranteeing reimbursement.

      “All I am basically doing is promoting their song for free. It only helps them by giving their song more exposure.”

      That’s for the rights holder to decide. Many copyright holders would probably agree with you, and in fact I think the vast majority of cover videos on YouTube, etc, are left alone for this reason. However, legally speaking, it’s not your call. It’s the call of whoever owns the content, and you are liable if they decide they are not getting what they deserve out of their content.

      Ultimately, if you don’t want to to pay a license fee, you are always free to negotiate directly with the rights holder. Of course, at that point, there’s no guarantee they will give permission. Many may well allow you to use their content for free if you aren’t reaping a direct financial return and give attribution. But some won’t, and that’s their right.

      And suffice to say it doesn’t go well if you try to negotiate after already making use of their song without their knowledge or permission.

  • Ehukaiteves

    Aloha Cristiane,
    I own the copyright to the song “Kalapana Sands” that a few people have done videos and recordings of without my permission and I need to find out how to make the people that put it on youtube or youtube pay for it or remove it. What is the normal sync fee?
    Thank you

  • Bradford Terry

    I know I’m appearing to be a blonk but if I have recorded a cover there is no video only a recorded version. I have paid copyright on that song can I put it on itunes or not

  • PatanjaliS

    We wrote an email to the publisher asking to use a particular song and they replied that it was OK without payment (I think they have got that now).

    We intend to quote that approval in the description. That will suffice.

    However, some artists are fussy. We were told by Van Morrison’s publisher that he was very finicky about videos, and wanted to know all about the visuals to be used with his songs. Pity, because it was the only cover on our CD. We decided there were plenty of other covers we could do that weren’t so onerous to negotiate.

    Just because you have published a song does not mean you cannot control how or where it is used, like that it is not allowed to be used derogatorily. You can still place those restrictions, but run the risk of your songs not being covered.

    • I guess Van has an old-school mind, which makes sense. Nerds and youngins don’t see Internet streaming or “video” the same way. It’s more like standing in front of someone than making a *filme* or something for MTV.

      And it’s also now virtually mandatory for all audio to have the kind of “video” you mention. YouTube is the new audio place. It’s a new world now but some crucial people are stuck in the old … and people screwed and vilified.

  • Dnsepulveda

    Wow. I really appreciate your information. This topic is definitely something that I was not sure about it, but now you have clarified everything with this great and helpful article.

  • Sepulveda

    Question: I have made an adaptation of a song from English to Spanish, do I need to register this new version as mine on the library of congress? I also have contacted the publisher of the original writers and they are waiting from my new version, they can help me to get the synch license as well? I’m planning to use the karaoke music from iTunes to record this new version if I get the licenses, is that OK?.
    I will appreciate if you can help me. Thanks a lot, great article.

  • Nick

    Let’s say I obtain the mechanical license and synch license and make a video and post it on youtube. Does that mean I will owe 9.1 cents in royalties (plus whatever I’ve agreed to with the synch license) every time someone views the video?

  • Arete

    The issue is that the business exists now really to collect royalties on music written in the 1960s, 1970s and later. In the last 10 years it has become so much harder and even artists like Adele sell a fraction of what a top band would sell 20 years ago. Of course that is life and you have to do music because it is part of you and you give away for free. See the following for our contribution.

  • If you've only paid mechanical royalties for physical product (CDs, vinyl, etc.) then you will need to get a similar license (DPDs) to sell the cover song digitally. Check out for details.

  • Christiane may have more specific info on this, but my understanding is that there is no "normal" sync fee. You can charge them whatever you think is reasonable. If you're referring to mechanical licenses for someone else to cover your song, that is generally 9.1 cents per song/per sellable unit. So,… if they get the regular mechanicals to sell your song on a CD, and they press 1000 CDs, … $91. If they're selling MP3s, they need to secure DPDs (a mechanical license for digital product) for the same song, which is the same price. So if they're selling a song for 99 cents, they owe you 9.1 cents.

    As for YouTube videos of that cover song, you have the right to ask them to remove those videos if the artist never negotiated any sync fees with you.

  • No. The 9.1 rate is the mechanical license rate per CD or MP3 sold. Your sync deal for videos is something else entirely.

    • Nick

      I see. So what if the cover is only to be released as a video on youtube, never distributed as MP3 or on CD. Do you still need both a mechanical license and sync license?

      • That one is best answered by Christiane to be certain, but to the best of my knowledge you would just need the sync license at that point.

  • Yes. It's based on the print run for mechanical licenses for physical product. For digital mechanicals (DPDs) it's based on an estimate, but you pay upfront; so, for example… you can purchase a license that will cover you for 150 MP3 sales of a song. Once you sell that many, you renew the license. If you don't sell that many in the given timeframe, your loss.

  • Sounds like it might be helpful for me to write an article in the near future de-mystifying the whole monetizing process on YouTube. Thanks to James & Kirk for sharing!

    • Chaz

      “Thanks to James and Kirk”
      Would Lars and Cliff/Jason/Rob like to chime in as well?

  • Tom Silver

    “…you paid a statutory royalty fee based on estimated unit sales of that song.” Isn’t it true that you pay Harry Fox based on the size of your print run regardless of how many CDs you actually sell – or of how many you estimate selling?

  • Scenic Roots

    What do you recommend doing if you try to contact the composer/publisher to negotiate a synch license, but cannot get them to return phone calls or emails? My experience has been that in many cases, publishers and artists don't really want to deal with the "little people".

  • Roger Meltzer

    Dear DIY Musician:

    Wordy, but funny. Putting out a cover song on YouTube is essentially
    enabling a public performance of a copywritten song. The artist/label
    might have paid the Harry Fox Agency or Limelight a mechanical
    license fee (9.1 cents) to the copyright holder(s) for each CD/download
    sold, and even negotiated a synch licensing fee to put it on a music video,
    but unless BMI/ASCAP or some other performance rights society is
    licensing YouTube for performances/views of the music video on behalf
    of the copyright owner(s), there is copyright infringement by YouTube in
    selling and not sharing the advertising shown alongside the video screen,
    even if the artist/label owns the SR and has paid mechanical and synch

    The artist/label is not providing the venue for the public performances
    of the video and accompanying copywritten work, — YouTube is — and
    they should be paying for the performance rights the same way a legit
    TV or radio station/network would. The artist/label is not the venue for
    the public performance — YouTube and the www internet are.

    What is sad is that when you ask BMI where is the money for all the
    thousands of views of a music video using your copywritten song, they
    tell you YouTube only pays them an annual pittance for their entire
    catalogue and itttle you aren't getting any share of that revenue from

    Not to go off on a rant here, but neither BMI nor ASCAP do much to
    stop copyright infringements by thousands of smaller terrestrial and
    internet radio stations that neither log their airplay nor pay to broadcast
    it. They audit and collect from the same 400 or so big stations and
    networks every quarter. If you write reggae music that only plays on
    specialty programs or on small stations, you're out of luck

    They're great at going after some mom and pop bar in East Nowhere
    with a seating capacity of 75 hiring some no name top 40 bands on
    weekends and getting them to pay up, while radio stations that play
    copywritten songs 24/7 are never pressed to pay. The performance
    rights societies have become as much a part of the problem as they
    once were part of the solution.

    The problem is songwriters and publishers, record producers and even
    artists have no lobby representing them in Congress, so the loopholes in
    the copyrightl law remain open, and producers and artists who also make
    songs into hits never get a dime from the public performances of their work.


    Roger Meltzer
    CEO and Director of A&R
    Capsicum Records LLC

    • Kathryn Ballard Shut

      Dear Roger,

      A great post and I really could relate when you mention the PRO rep going after the bar in "East Nowhere". Back in the early 1980's, my father owned one of premiere jazz clubs in Dallas, and as a result, often mentioned that he "dreaded the ASCAP guy" that showed up in person every quarter, demanding detailed listings of all the musical works, both played live in the nightclub, as well as anything that was broadcast over the PA system. Traditional PROs (of which I am a member of ASCAP as a publisher!), still operate on older models that monitor "terrestrial" radio, synch licensing, and the occasional assault of the local bowling alley.

      I have learned of a couple of companies that are emerging to try to address the issue of performance artist royalties for streamed music. Songtrust (yearly subscription service) and SoundExchange (so far, free).

      I tweeted (@SoundExchange – SX) the other day and asked them how they were different from traditional PROs. I also asked if one could be a member of their service, even if they were also in a PRO? Their answers were that they pay for performance royalties ONLY on digital (online, streaming) media, currently not administered by PROs; and that yes, one could register artists, titles, labels, and albums with them, and still be an ASCAP, SESAC, or BMI member.

      SX also has a database (called 'PLAYS', maintained since 1998) where one can look up artist, label, or song — I found several of our songs there, but I have no idea what royalties (if any) will come of it. See for more info.

      Finally, to address these loopholes, apparently SX partners with an org called the MusicFirst Coalition that is pressing Congress to pay royalties to performing artists. Check out

      I am by no means an expert at this and I am not employed by SoundExchange or Songtrust. As a copyright holder, I just learn something new every day in this business and I thought I might pass the information along as this topic will only get hotter in time.

      Best wishes,
      Kathryn Ballard Shut
      TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
      Denver, CO, USA
      Twitter: @timkatent

      • Johnny Kareem Gagnon

        SoundExchange lost my reg.mail application,said they never got it , and probably I sent another one and still they said I was missing something,then I figured out how to use their online system but then they only registered me as a Featured artist and said they misplaced my Copyright Holder/Owner line application….. anyways they stalled me a few years and by then my music had been already listened to and was no longer new anymore… I just said to hell with all this agravation…

      • Johnny Kareem Gagnon

        In montreal mob controls absolutely everything and the aristocracy who are corporation elites play right along with them by handing them the entire government on a silver plater and offering them local law enforcement as their helpers and witnesses… Ive had mob enter our recordings with guns,one friend shot dead,engineer smacked around and been a victim myself of a couple of times nearly meeting my maker(shot at and push off a wharf while walking back intoxicated to a boat),followed and harrassed at SOCAN offices,etc.. the list just keeps going and even the Feds kept their distance,it seems RCMP haven’t a corporate address registered in quebec as they do in the other provinces…. and they claim their is law enforcement and justice in Canada,yeah right?

    • Alex Moore

      Spoken like someone I would want to work with!

  • Is this something they initiated or expressed interest? If so, just check in with them every few weeks. If not, and if you've made several attempts to contact them without reply, I'd say to leave it be for a bit. They're probably not interested this go around. Try again in 6 months.

    • Mmm yeah, pretty sure that goes wayy against YouTube “Best Practices.” Any law-abiding person: fail pls. Dems de breaks? SMH.

      In other words, just one more reason it seems “no one” does this right. I want to dive in to what seems like a required part of modern music, but I get anxious. Was looking for updated info about YT blanket licenses while tired and grumpy… 😉

      That doesn’t make it right or you wrong, but it’s this elephant with gigantism all around … So annoying. Do it or you’ll fail … but you’re a criminal and there’s a smaller chance you’ll get knicked … but do it or toil away as a laughable dreamer, you overthinking, procrastinating, definitely straight-edge, dweeby loser. Haha. The dilemma is infuriating.

      I think we need more vents about this, to talk openly amongst the music peeps, and to hopefully bring up some sort of modernizing of the law to the government. It’s hush hush. “Don’t do it (but the eyes say: doooo it, fool, and yes the lazy, cheap way).” Let’s get real.

  • Mrazcuy

    I tried getting a synch license trough Harry Fox and they don't do them anymore. Then, I went to BMI and they say they don't do it either and that YouTube has a blanket license. They would explain any further.

    • Sync licenses need to be negotiated directly with the publisher and the owner of the master recording. Harry Fox does mechanical licenses. BMI collects performance royalties.

  • John

    And what if you have an MP3 only, no video, but don't intend to sell it. It's just a cover that you want to place on your website. Is a mechanical license required? If so, what is the cost, given that there are no sales?

    • Yes. You do. Essentially, you're using someone else's intellectual property in order to further your career, so you have to pay a DPD (digital mechanical license for MP3s– 9.1 cents per song) no matter if you sell the MP3 or give it away. And that is 9.1 cents for every download you sell or give away.

      • NothinButFunBand

        What if we don’t offer it for download? Our band covers songs that we play in venues that pay BMI fees. Now we’re building a website and want people to be able to hear what we sound like when we do covers. Do we need the DPD for each song? What if we just post short audio clips? If we don’t offer downloads but we do need DPDs, how do we/they calculate how much we owe?

  • Eric Elven

    So, I have the same question as Nick and am hoping for a definitive reply from the columnist. … We want to video a live performance (in our living room) of an original arrangement of a cover song and post it to YouTube. We have no studio recorded version of the song at this time. Do we still need a mechanical or sync license or both? Thanks.

    • Hoping Christiane will weigh in on this definitely, but my assumption is that if you're not selling a copy of the song via CD or MP3, then you do NOT need a mechanical license. You would need a sync license to stream the video of the performance of the song on YouTube.

  • Joshdiymusicmovement

    Great stuff, this has made me very keen to look into the specfics of how Copyright Laws in Australia compared with the USA! 🙂

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  • Ronaldo Dildsmeck
  • Greygoose625

    I perform solo guitar… electronic stuff other than amplification. I practice 40 hrs a week, perform and self manage. I spent 50 years learning to play like I do and it is impossible to play real music and make a profit. I have performers insurance, tranportation, equipment, etc. The little guy is totally unable to survive because karaoke, dj’s, flashy gimicks, flat screen tvs in clubs and restaurants have replaced real musicians. I don’t see a future in music… has opened a lot of doors for me in the past… I am unable to make a profit and I loose thousands every year..

  • charlie

    so you find, and then contact, the publisher of the song, and ask for a sync license – which costs nothing? If you’re not selling it? Or monetizing it? And they somehow “give” you a license? Or do they simply give permission – or not, as in the case of Van Morrison?

  • Have you been able to contact them directly via email? Or get someone on the phone to explain?

  • Anononemo

    Wow!!! Amazing article. Nice job and thank you very much!

  • Meckern

    Good information. Edit out the bad jokes, and it would be a good primer for recording and performing artists.

  • Pingback: 6 Things to Consider Before Entering the Recording Studio | DIY Musician()

  • Interesting article; thank you. I signed a contract to perform and specifically banned filming the performance without my prior written permission. Somehow, without permission, someone filmed, and posted to YouTube, one song on which I had switched positions with another singer, but the sound people failed to switch our monitors; so I could not hear myself (and I presume the same was true for the other singer). The results were devastating. How can I get that damaging video removed from YouTube? Have I any recourse against the person who filmed the performance without permission? And, further, then posted it to YouTube, also without permission? Kindly RSVP to Thank you so much.

  • I'll let Christiane handle that one from a legal perspective. But before you involve the law, I'd suggest writing to the person who posted the video on YouTube (even if you just leave a comment on their YouTube channel), explain the situation, and kindly ask them to remove the video. I would say start off casual and polite. They'll be more likely to comply with your wishes if you play it off cool. Then, if they don't comply– then you can start in with the stuff about them not having permission to film in the first place, and all the rest.

  • Roni Sloss

    What if the backing track is not the original master track…. and was created by other musicians for karaoke……. I am a Artist that performs. So I purchased a track from these musicians and recorded myself singing to the track I purchased.

    What is the process for this? I don’t understand how a claim can be made for publishing against a non-MASTER composition.

  • Publishing is a separate issue from the copyright of the sound recording. So you'd have to get permission/pay the publisher of the song for the usage of their composition.

  • Michelle

    How about covers of less than 30 seconds in length, to be used in an… app? Do they fall under a mechanical or synch or some other international licence? The app itself would be free/ad based and the mini-covers are meant as background music, not as downloadble stuff or samples for anything.

    Would a promotional youtube video for that app need licences? It would inevitably use some of those less-than-30-seconds covers.

    • Are the cover songs synced up with moving images in the app? I'm no lawyer, but I think the answer to both usages is a sync license. For the app, and certainly for the YouTube trailer.

      • NothinButFunBand

        Along the same lines. Our band covers songs that we play in venues that pay BMI fees. So far so good. Now we’re building a website and want people to be able to hear what we sound like when we do covers. Do we have to get licenses? What if we just post short audio clips?

  • What if its horribly out of sync, Is that ok?

    • What is horribly out of sync? The music and the images? That shouldn't change anything about the legality.

    • LOL I feel you with that joke. This part of CR law is so outdated (it’s not the same kind of syncing as before the Internet, which to me is often so similar to live) but at least this little bit of silliness is making me smile. 🙂

  • I am an art dealer who has been approached by an indie label for a commissioned painting by one of our artists for a band's upcoming album cover. I am interested to know if there is an industry standard for usage/payment to the artist for unlimited usage of the image, or if unlimited usage is a bad idea.
    Members of the band will pay for and own the painting. I know that the rights for the image of the art will still belong to the artist. What is your recommendation on how to proceed so that there are no problems in the future and both the visual artist and the band will benefit. Many thanks!

  • Not sure if the author of the post is still checking comments regularly, so you may want to write her at the email address listed in her credit at the top of the article. I don't think there is a standard policy, though. You could probably charge "whatever you want" and work out whatever kind of license or unlimited usage fee that you thought fair.

  • joyful gem

    I’m a singer, have produced 2 CDs and was planning to make some videos of my songs and place them on YouTube. I have copyright for all my songs, artwork, etc. I also sell my songs digitally on iTune, etc. Since I own everyhing, can I post a video without any licences? Also, the other day I found that someone has used one of my songs on a video they made (without my permission), what legal rights do I have?

  • You have the right to use your own music in your own videos any way and anywhere you like. As for someone else using your music in a video, you have a few options: 1) if that song is signed up for CD Baby sync licensing program, YouTube should ID the song in their system and "monetize" that person's video– paying you (through us) for the usage of your music in that video (in the form of ad-share revenue), 2) ask them to take the video down, 3) ask them to pay you a license for the song's usage, 4) explore your legal options.

  • Dave_in_RI

    Does it matter whether or not you are selling your cover? I tried to upload some 25 year old video footage of a college coffee house performance that included my cover of a Led Zeppelin song. It got ID'ed and is blocked. I just wanted to share it with 5 or 6 old college friends; I'm not selling anything. I left the "Public" setting on when I uploaded the video. Would I need a license for this? Is it too late to make it "Private," or does that not matter anyway?

    • I believe that, technically, you'd need to get a license in order to sync a Zep composition with moving images (your concert footage). It doesn't matter whether or not you're making money off of it. To be sure, you might want to consult an entertainment attorney.

  • Dave_in_RI

    Thanks for your reply, and for the very informative article. I appreciated the bad humor, too!

  • M Prewitt

    Good article. I'm sorry to find it so long after the post date, but perhaps you can help me. I work for a nonprofit TV network. Recently one of the network channel managers asked me to post a few samples of one of our own music TV programs on YouTube. Please note that this is our own original TV series, and we have broadcast licensing through BMI, SESAC, etc. What I'm confused about is whether we would need additional licensing to post these TV episodes to YouTube. Any help or pointers would be greatly appreciated.

  • Tom B.

    How about if someone takes video of my band performing a cover song live and posts it on youtube? Same issue?

  • I would imagine so. But I'll leave it to the legal expert to say for sure.

  • Bob Boscoden

    Good luck trying to find the owner of the copyright. I wanted to use the Leon Russel song, Me and Baby Jane, on my local access TV show. I think it was Leon Russel himself who answered my email. He gave me the publisher’s number who handles it. They gave me the number of the number who handles the synch licensing. He never got back to me. It’s less work to write a song.

  • Boyce Avenue has launched a massive career by uploading cover songs to YouTube. It would be great to hear from them as to how they secured sync licenses for “Somebody That I Used To Know”, “Payphone”, “Heaven”, “Breakeven” and dozens more…

  • I needed this info badly. What a dangerous legal minefield the music world is!

    One could go broke after spending endless time composing, arranging, singing and playing an instrument, only to find that it was not worth the trouble unless one then wants to spend just as much time trying to find out how to get the necessary legal "PERMISSIONS" to perform one's own works which may in some ways "resemble" the base melody initiated by another Composer.

    In my opinion just because someone wrote a particular melody, that should never have been allowed to become sacrosanct and untouchable in any way. Protected in its base form and recorded presentation….YES. But not in another form musically re-arranged and presented by another artist.
    After all, that is in itself, "ANOTHER ORIGINAL COMPOSITION"!
    After all, if you think about it, it's almost a crime to go away and "whistle" a song after having heard a tune for the first time that was written by someone other than oneself.

    I think that the kind of copyright protection given to an original work is too way over the top. A tune is just an idea someone had and perhaps made some money from. Creativity about anything on this earth stems from others "building upon others ideas".
    Certain aspects of Music Copyright have been allowed to become what is probably the biggest killer to creativity by other composers and arrangers.

    I have written some new arrangements for some very old songs which I have found out are still "Under Copyright". Now I have to really go to town to see if I can even get to have others share listening to them.

    I attended the Brisbane (Australia) Indie "Unconvention" recently.

    The first words uttered by the first Presenter were, " Music used to be about getting together and sharing and caring the joy of it."
    What happened? Now we can't even talk to someone else about what they are listening to because not only do we not know what that is, but also that their ears are blocked by earphones and their whole being is engrossed in their Ipods!

    What a crazy stupid world this has become!

  • Here you see me holding some of my own copyright music…..Big Deal!

    It is beginning to look to me as if the least troublesome and legally safest thing for me to do is to share it with no-one, keep it all to myself and have it buried in my coffin with me.

    I find it amazing how much effort some humans will sometimes put into being selfish about what they own or have created to the point of supporting the having of what amounts to a separate "Police Force" e.g. ASCAP, APRA et al working to ensure that "protection money is paid"(Royalties) and that their own artistic selfishness(Copyright) is preserved.
    Those who work in such policing bodies neither contribute music nor create anything as do Composers, Arrangers and Song writers. They even try to make huge sums of money "Organising Music Events" where the "Real AND ACTUAL Workers and Artists" are the drawcard who just happen to need a venue.
    They are nothing more than sponging "legalised stand-over merchants" who make their money(income and living) sucking it out of what "should ALL" be going to the original artist or composer as their dues for the work they have done to earn a living or additional income from their artistic works.

    Grow up, change the Copyright laws and learn to share, the lot of you!

    The Internet being what it is will change things in ways as yet unimagined and the hangers-on and spongers will go by the way sooner or later, leaving the artist to collect their dues from those (fans, listeners, buyers) who wish to willingly cash contribute.

    Oh yes!…my most heard phrase at the Brisbane Unconvention from almost every Presenter from the several "panels" was………..

    "Don't get into Music if you want to get rich…there's no money in it……just do it for the love and fun of it!"

    Ok ……so I guess its back to the Manuscript Monitor Display for me folks !

    • Johnny Kareem Gagnon

      I agree Kathryn , copyright,ethics and morals means bogus in a corporate cannibal cloaked industrial government… I even have these mobsters saying I stole my music and trying to get put away in jails and psych institutions … then their music collection agencies don’t even pay a dime while people come from California and England to see me about music? ………… so what is really happening is gvt cloakedcorporate mob

  • Bredouw2

    I have recorded a vocal arrangement of I Can Dream Can't I?, a pop song from the 1930's era and would like to expose it for feedback on ?? iTunes? What's my first move?

    • Definitely a question for an expert in entertainment law. If Christiane doesn't respond here, send an email to the address included in the intro.

  • michaeljohnhall

    Is there a standard or custom rate for a sync license? Mechanical is 9.15 cents but when someone streams my music on LastFM or Rhapsody, i get like .001 cents per stream. So when negotiating with the copyright holder for sync rights, what is the going rate?
    Thank you
    Michael John Hall
    Santa Fe, NM

  • Do you mean streaming fees? If so, there is no going rate, but for most streaming services it tends to be a percentage of subscription or ad revenue, divided by plays.

  • Maybe I should have studied French theoretical philosophy instead of becoming a musician. Or become a tax accountant.

  • JDG

    So people like KurtHugoSchneider and Christina Grimmie have get licenses everytime they cover a song?

  • Well, it's a gray area on YouTube, but in terms of selling downloads/CDs/streams — absolutely yes. They have to pay the songwriter/publisher of any song they're covering.


  • its really doubtful everyone on youtube that post cover songs have the proper written "GO" to do a cover song of a copyrighted song i feel theres no harm in covering a popular song. because
    your not claiming rights to it
    your not stating its yours
    your doing it for fun

    i mean come on if other youtube celebs can do it without the proper written proof that they can then others can do it too reguardless of fame or no fame i believe youtube singles people out

  • I am so glad to come across your blog because I have some questions
    before but it has now finally been answered because of this article you
    have posted. Thanks for the great information I have really learned a

  • Kate

    Wow! This article was very helpful! I think I’m walking into a gigantic headache wanting to create instrumental covers of some of the latest songs that i hear on the radio… No wonder most people post things illegally. Times have changed–these laws need to change, too..

    I’m curious about songs from other countries, though. I would think Japan has different copyright laws considering how widely popular Karaoke is over there. If I wanted to cover a Japanese song, do I follow American copyright laws since I live in the USA, or can I follow Japanese copyright laws if it is a Japanese song? Germany has some cool songs too, and probably different copyright laws… I’ve seen a few Canadian music websites that have a disclaimer about the music being legal to play following Canadian laws, but illegal in the USA…?? Confusing. Which is right? The most strict-country’s law?

    They need to make gaining permission from publishers and record companies a whole lot easier if they want folks to stop breaking the law–whatever country’s law that may be. There might even be a language barrier. It’s a pity that people legally need to go through all of this as it puts a big roadblock on musical creativity. I think we are all stuck in this no-man’s-zone of world-wide exposure through the internet, yet individual country laws (with American laws seeming to be quite strict). Hopefully something universal will come about to fix this giant headache for digital uploads of covers as they really do help promote the original artists.

    Oh is what it is!

  • Hopefully the knowledgeable author will weigh in here? I'm over my head when it comes to the intricacies of some of this stuff.


  • Wilkins Leong

    So once I have a mechanical license and a sync license, does that mean I can make money off the cover videos through YouTube’s partner program?

  • Johnny Kareem Gagnon

    when copyrights are all you own,thieves belong in jail.

  • Trishna

    Check out my cover on Nothing Like Us by Justin Bieber , it will mean a lot. thank you 🙂

  • Poppa Madison

    Johnny, if indeed Copyrights are all you own then I think that most Investment Advisers would say that you have not spread your self-investment choices widely or wisely enough.

    Making one's fortune from music composition is and always has been a game of chance, not certainty, which is why I developed other skills through which to with more certainty make money.

    YOu can bet your bottom dollar anyway that there is a plethora of music in one form or another that contains snippets of what you or I might mistakenly think is our own completely original musical composition.

    Without the spark of the influence of all that one hears of the music and song of others, from where would come the either the concepts or idease as to how to come up with anything at all?

    © ♯♪♫ ♂PM

    Follow Poppa on Twitter: @Poppa_Madison

  • Poppa Madison

    Absolutely Bob! That's what I posted somewhere else!

    Hey……..I could sue your for written copyright infringement couldn't I?

    OK….I'll settle for a cool million bucks.

    and NO it's not negotiable, and YES, I said it first.

    Oh….go tell that to your lawyer!

    LOL freakin LOL


    © ♯♪♫ ♂PM

    Follow Poppa onTwitter: @Poppa_Madison

  • Alisha Nicole

    I have a question if anyone can answer I’d deeply appreciate it. (: – I wrote a cover to Dirty Laundry by Kelly Rowland, changed the hook and maybe kept 5-10 words from the original piece. This is my first time ever writing an actual song, and I wanted to record the cover on youtube, of just me simply singing it as tonssss of other people do as well. Problem is, I’m also a Youtube Partner so they will check for copyright. But, as a Youtube partner you make a certain amount of cents per view/click. So, can someone please simply tell me what needs to be done in order to make this happen? I’m not trying to sell downloads or cd’s. But I would be making money per view. Please Help! ( :

    • trapper456

      Any part of
      the melody / words; they are all protected by copyright. You can use the same
      chord structure and style but you have to come up with something that is
      original that sounds like no one else’s song. In your case you will probably
      have to secure a synch license and mechanical license for all interned
      purposes. I am not a lawyer or anything, but I study the copyright website
      every day because of my myriad of copyrights that I hold. So, if you are using
      the melody or any words of the original composition you are in copyright
      violation. You can not make money off of someone else’s song weather it be a
      cover or not without the original copyright holder or publisher’s permission.
      If you do, do this that is the easiest way to open yourself up for a lawsuit. I
      never sure anyone, but I just have YouTube pull the videos of my songs. That is
      because there are so many loopholes to even getting paid from this or any other
      organization. The copyright holder has the entire say so in the matter. What my
      suggestion to you is to try to get into contact with the copyright holder and
      ask them if this is ok. But, however, I am willing to bet that they are not
      going to want someone else making money to their music. The reason being is
      that, that could be their only way that they make money on their creations. You
      see, being a songwriter is being an inventor. No, if you created a product and
      went through all the loopholes to get it on the market, like a songwriter has
      to do, you would not want someone else making money off of your invention after
      all of the maybe thousands of dollars and a massive amount of creativity went
      into your project. You would be raging ferrous, if someone else
      wanted to make money off of your invention, wouldn’t you. That is how
      songwriters feel about their creations. So, as I suggested earlier get into
      contact with the copyright holder and ask them if you could do this. But,
      I can almost bet that they are going to want a share of your per click income
      that you will be making money off of. Or, they might just tell you to word the
      credits in a certain way so that the said songwriter can get free promotion and
      advertisements out of. If there is any part of the “Words or Melody”
      YouTube will recognize this. So, please, please, please, contact the person
      that owns the song to avoid any lawsuit against you.

  • Hey Alisha,

    That's an interesting case, because technically what you've created is not a "cover song" — but a "derivative work." That's a work where you've taken someone's original composition and made significant changes to the music or lyrics. Legally, you don't have the right to sell, stream, or share this music without the permission of the publisher/songwriter. IF they agree to allow your derivative version of their song, then they get to pretty much set the terms for how that song gets monetized. I'd recommend consulting an entertainment attorney for details.


  • Yes indeed, the rights holder has the say. But since the climate has shifted towards allowing folks to post music and perform covers on YouTube, YouTube is at least making it possible for the rights holder to monetize those usages.


  • JayDanYell

    May I assume that the same issues apply to parodies?

  • Hopefully our legal expert will weigh in here, but I think technically (and this is just my assumption) the answer is no. You'd have to get a separate permission for a parody song, as it's not technically a cover song. It's considered a "derivative work."


    • JayDanYell

      Well, then. Yes, I hope our legal expert will weigh in!

  • Rachel

    So I see tons of people post covers on Youtube and say “I do not own this!!!” does that really save anyone’s butt and make copyright owners happy?

  • WHat if your intention when covering someones song vocally is just to share your talent with other people without any financial gains or promotions resulting in financial gains as your intention. For instance say somebody wants to show how good they can sing so they play a karaoke track of the artist and record their vocals to it and post it .Is that harmfull or illegal? What if this person has no musical writing skills or cannot play an instrument.Do they need to sing accapella and change the lyrics? I mean this is ridiculous.

    • Louise

      It is. Musicians should be paid for their time, their recordings – that’s it. If a director once to use your music in his/her film they buy your recording, you get credited. Millions see the film and want to buy a copy of your music. Millions of customers. Why do you need royalties? Its just a way for Record companies to make money off of the real creators.

  • Andrea Wittgens

    This is such a good post and I’m grateful for all the discussion! Here is my situation and maybe someone has some advice: Someone has asked me to record a cover song for use on her photography website as background for a promotional video. I’m trying to figure out the best way for us to legally license the cover song for this specific use. I’m assuming we first get a mechanical (although I’m not sure how many “units” because it will be for digital play on a website). As for the sync, is there a special license for background music on websites? And is there a quick way contact Copyright owners for a sync license via a service (ie something like a limelight). Or is there a service who does both mechanical and sync? Since I will be billing a client, I’m trying to streamline the process for her. Thanks for any comment!!

  • Unless you're planning to sell the track on its own, I am pretty sure you don't need a mechanical license. (But you should definitely consult a music law expert on that first). As for sync, does the artist/publisher/label/management team's websites have any contact info regarding licensing? I'd try to go straight to the source — the agency that is authorized to license music on the artist's behalf. BUT… they might not have such a thing, preferring to run all decisions through the publisher or label.

    I know that's not super helpful, but you might be able to find the right avenue by checking all the related parties' websites.


  • johngrivera

    I would like to post my song covers on YouTube but each and every time that I do I get a copyright violation while all the rest of the other covers (I am sure I am not the only one) have no permission to use these songs and yet their videos stay up. I would like to at some point post these song covers up for download on places such as iTunes but something tells me that getting a synch license is going to be next to impossible unless you have connections to the artist or someone who knows the artist directly. People like Mike Tompkinds, Christina Grimmie, and Alex G have all posted song covers and even posted them on iTunes. I am wondering how they were able to secure this synch license without having any problems. I will go on my venture and try to secure me some license hoping for the best.

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  • Bruce Moore

    Why can’t I buy a sync license from limelight? It would seem to be time consuming to track down all 5 songwriters of “signed sealed delivered” and then how long before they get back to me?

  • Sync licensing is not compulsory, like mechanical licenses are for cover songs. While you have the right to cover and distribute any song that has already been commercially released (as long as you pay the writer/publisher), you don’t have the right to sync that cover song with images unless you get permission from those same parties.

    @ Chris Robley

    • Bruce Moore

      Why can’t someone negotiate the sync license for me? Isn’t someone in the business of doing that? Can’t it be a fixed fee for their service and then also pay the license fee. I just don’t want to waste time finding out who to contact and how to contact them. How about $10 per song to get a quote from the copyright holder and then if you accept, $5 processing plus the license fee to get the deal?

  • Bendy Bentley

    Is there any way to find out if a copyright holder has monetized a song before you post it? I record friends doing concerts, and when I put a song up, I often times get a copyright claim notice, which allows the song to stay up. I try to see if other artists have uploaded the same song, and going by how many have, and how long theirs have been up, I then decide if I am going to upload my friend’s rendition. This has worked well, until I uploaded Cole Vosbury singing Purple Rain. It was up for two weeks and had 1000 views before it was removed and I received the first strike against my account. I warned Cole’s sister, who also had the song up (for 8 months) with about 6k views. She didn’t heed my warning, and received a strike as well, a couple of weeks after mine. I try to do right, but it seems impossible to do so, if you cant find out what songs can be posted until AFTER you post them! Is there some sort of data base? I just uploaded Best Song Ever, and have a bad feeling about it.

  • Hi Bendy,

    Sorry I’m not much help on this. YouTube rights and restrictions regarding cover songs or uploads of other peoples’ content is still a pretty gray area. I’m not sure if there’s a database of pre-cleared songs or not, but if you find anything, please let me know.

    You did make one mistake, though: Prince! He’s made a reputation for pulling unauthorized content from… everywhere online, especially YouTube.

    @ Chris Robley

    • Bendy Bentley

      Thanks Chris, for the response. I should have known Prince would be a problem, but there were other videos up, so I went for it! I found out from Cole after this happened, that he had tried to get permission to sing Purple Rain on The Voice, but they (Controversy Music) would not allow it! I also later found out that Prince is suing 22 of his fb fans for posting links to some of his work. I never was a fan, but sure steering clear of him now! Thanks for the info.

  • You might be onto something. A new business venture!

    @ Chris Robley

  • Clay Stevenson

    Interestingly, HFA client services has advised users to “proceed with uploading their video and the YouTube Content Management System (CMS) will attempt to identify any copyrighted compositions it may contain. (They continue with) You will be notified if there is any dispute with the use of the song.” They did not offer a warning that the YouTube channel of the user would potentially be in jeopardy after “multiple ‘copyright’ strikes”. Would you expand on that concern/point? Thanks.

  • Jaysen Robert Wolfe

    I do a lot of music production on my laptop PC, kind of a hobby of mine-and I feel I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I’m ALSO a musician who enjoys writing music and LOVE doing Covers of my favorite songs. To the point. IF I’m creating a song purely under asthetics- with NO desire for ANY compensation albeit a few likes and hundreds of comments from adoring fans, exactly what type of license do I need? I’m not asking for money for my works, I do it because I really like doing it. Recently I received a “Notice of third Party Content” warning. The song is copyrighted, but all the sounds and instruments are performed by myself, even the vocalist is a Vocaloid few kriste’s sake, so NOTHING from the original song was used–only the chords, melodies and lyrics.

  • Right, but you’re still performed someone else’s composition. So that copyright is controlled by the publisher/s and songwriter/s. You’re still required to go through the legal hoops to clear those rights, even if you’re not selling the song. Giving something away for free still counts as distribution, so they want their royalties.


  • This article was written March 2012 yet evergreen! Good job!

    I have a question, if anyone would like to help…

    I want to video record karaoke performances and post them on YouTube.
    Am I violating any rights, rules, regulations, laws, etc.?

    Thanks in advance.

  • Well, I’m not a lawyer, but I think you’re getting into murky waters there because 1) it’s a cover song, and 2) you’re using someone else’s copyright-protected master recording. Hopefully the author will weigh in here with some advice.


  • brookstyle

    I covered a led zepellin instrumental on guitar and THAT was taken off. Seems draconian to me. The video has 60 hits in 5 years from family.

  • Mysterious Voice

    If i am doing youtube covers am i not alowed to do them anymore?

  • Cover songs on YouTube are still a very gray area. I’d say that if you haven’t gotten flagged yet, and all the cover songs you’ve uploaded so far have stayed up there, you’re probably fine to keep doing it (until otherwise notified).


    • I read one complaint about three strikes all in one day, thus removal very fast. It’s scary.

      The overwhelming advice though is to just do it anyway. :

  • Hmm I just uploaded this Cover and it’s getting a ton of views I hope it doesn’t get flagged…

  • Diego

    So what happens if you are just filming yourself singing a song without monetization purposes? Are you infringing copyright laws? That is what happened to me and a Prince’s song. The very people from COntroversy Music sent a claim, my YouTUbe channel got a notice of “strike one”, thus removing some of the features of the site and the video was removed.

  • Yeah. You’re still infringing on the copyright even if you’re intending to give it away and not make money from it. They still have the right to stop you.


  • Rock Chick

    I can’t even read this article it is so poorly formatted 🙁

  • Yeah. Something got garbled up there since it was posted. I just added some spacing and bullet-points to try to make it easier on the eyes.


  • chiwawa

    The humor was so awful that I almost stopped reading the article several times. Fortunately, I made it through to the end, but I still do not know how to contact a copyright holder to get a synch license.

  • Content ID has helped ease some of the anxiety around this recently. Like, yes, it’s technically still illegal to post a cover song video without a sync licensing, but since everyone is doing it, Content ID swoops in and lets the publisher monetize the… infringement.

    So on the one hand, it’s irresponsible to advise someone to proceed with a cover song video with a sync license. On the other, everyone’s doin’ it. First one’s free. Smoke if you got ’em. And don’t say that no one ever warned you that you might get a slap on the wrist or three.


  • Also, your description of the schizo dilemma was apt and hilarious.


  • Angelica Ong (JustRandomAngel)

    I want to do an acapella song cover of Chains by Nick Jonas. I will only be taking 30 secs of the song. Do I need to get an authorized license for it?

    • Well, for YouTube, technically yes. But lots of people are posting cover song videos on YouTube without securing a sync license, and then the publisher earns $$ through Content ID. I suppose it’s up to you if you want to veer towards the letter of the law, or more towards the accepted practice (even though the accepted practice can sometimes knock you with a copyright violation — and you do NOT want one of those on your YT record).


  • J Robert Goldner (Professor)

    Does a cover song have to include the name of person who wrote the song on the record?

    • Like, on the album art? It doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) on the album cover. BUT, I would advise you to credit the songwriter/publisher in the album credits/liner notes.


      • J Robert Goldner (Professor)

        FMOI I’m trying to find out if it’s mandatory and is a separate agreement needed if a cover song artist doesn’t want to credit the songwriter. I suppose some songwriters will be ok with it because their getting paid.

  • Yeah, I’m not sure. If you find out, let us know.


  • Jonathan

    I’ve been trying to contact Warner/Chappell Music via email and phone to get a synch license for an upcoming YouTube cover of one of their songs, but I’ve been unable to reach anyone. I have my doubts as to ever hearing back from them since we’re just starting out and I’m sure we’re not worth their time. So what are our options? Is it reasonably safe to upload the cover without prior permission, set the video as Private until Content ID detects the third-party content and (hopefully) allows the video to remain on YouTube with monetization for the publisher, and then publish it once that is sorted out? I really don’t want the artist getting in trouble for this, especially if the video happens to get a lot of traffic. Also, is it usually possible to partially monetize a video with third-party content (i.e. receive a smaller cut of ad revenue given that the song owner is getting some of it)? Goes without saying that we’ll have all necessary mechanical licenses in place for sales of the song via iTunes etc.

  • Without properly licensing the cover song video, everything stays fairly grey in terms of YouTube. Most artists are doing what you propose, posting the video, and then letting Content ID do its work. And as long as the publishing rights owner is okay with monetizing it in that way, you’re fine. But again, that’s not guaranteed. You could always search YouTube and see how many other cover versions there are of that song. That won’t guarantee that you’re fine to just post the video either, but it’s an indicator in that direction.

    As for splits, there are 3 lines of monetization in a video with music in it — Master, publisher and video — and they divide the revenue (after google takes their cut of the rev). In the case of a 3rd party publisher claim, the publisher would get all of the publisher revenue. The other two lines would not be touched by the publisher and if you as the channel owner controls one or both of those rights, you would get that money.


  • Joel Laviolette

    Here’s a question: these days, many artists are putting up a still image on youtube-like the cover of the album.
    If we have mechanical rights to a song and just post a still image of our CD, do we still need a sync license?

  • Like, for a cover song that you’ve recorded? And you’ve gotten the mechanical license to distribute that? If so, TECHNICALLY, the answer is YES, you still need a sync license (even if it’s just a still photo).

    BUT… most people posting cover songs on YouTube are not securing sync licenses. This is where Content ID comes in. If the publisher of the song you’re covering is using Content ID then YouTube should find your video and monetize it on the publisher’s behalf. Most publishers are happy to go this route, though it does occasionally happen that some writers and publishers will have YouTube remove your video (and slap you with a copyright transgression; 3 strikes and you’re out!).

    So… that’s my very NOT-legal advice.


    • Joel Laviolette

      That makes sense. I thought maybe we’d get lucky that there would be a loophole there, but it makes sense.

  • I like to believe that because you’ve secured the mechanical for distribution, you have a better case for the YouTube Art Track video being legit, especially when monetized by the publisher through Content ID… but really that’s just my very non-legal belief. ; )


  • I like to believe that because you’ve secured the mechanical for distribution, you have a better case for the YouTube Art Track video being legit, especially when monetized by the publisher through Content ID… but really that’s just my very non-legal belief. ; )


  • Frances

    Can you please help me. Im a film producer and i have found some one on your tube who is creating her own covers of popular pop songs. and selling them. My question is can they be used in my movies. I do not need any legal issues to pop up out of the blue and bite me on the ass. Can you help me please.

  • You would need to license the master recording from the artist and the underlying composition from the songwriter/publisher. Two different licenses for the same sync placement.


  • Did you try searching the catalogs of Harry Fox, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and SOCAN?


  • Andy Lee

    Hi, Chris! Awesome article. It really helped me understand this whole copyright licensing issue.

    I have two questions to ask after reading your article. I took an English song and translated it to Korean. The publisher provided me with translation license and mechanical license. If our band wants to perform this song live and post it on Youtube, are you saying we need both the synch license and broadcast&performance license?

    And if I want to add the song to a music streaming service in the U.S. and in Korea, what kind of licenses will I need?

    • Hi Andy,

      If you’ve secured the mechanical license and the translation license from the publisher, you’re probably also fine to distribute it via streaming services (though I’d check with the publisher to be sure). As for YouTube, it’s a gray area. TECHNICALLY, you need a sync license. BUT… hardly anyone is doing that. Most content creators upload cover song videos and then let the publisher take their cut of advertising revenue through YouTube’s Content ID system.


  • DiegoJames

    My last recording was a cover and after getting a mechanical license I pursued a contract with the song’s publisher, Universal, and successfully and legally posted my cover with my own video to youtube. Now my next song is also a cover but I’m not going to make a video for it and will only make it available as an mp3. HOWEVER! Can I post my cover on youtube with words only without permission or is that considered setting the song to a video?

    • That’s still considered a video/sync. BUT… YouTube does have pretty powerful Content ID solutions in place that allow for the publisher to make a copyright claim on your video, and then they earn ad revenue from it. Lots of publishers are opting to do that, instead of asking artists who cover their songs to remove videos from YouTube.

      Follow on Twitter at @ChrisRobley