If a band covers another artist’s song and a third-party then obtains a license to use the cover version, does the original copyright holder still have a say in how the cover version is used commercially?
This tricky copyright question played out publicly last month when the Trump Campaign used a cover of a Linkin Park song in a campaign video. After President Trump shared the video on his Twitter account, Linkin Park sent a Cease and Desist letter demanding that Twitter remove the video for violating the band’s copyright.
The campaign pushed back by noting that the song used in the video was a cover version that they had obtained a license for, but in this specific case, the cover artist also demanded that the campaign stop using their work. Because the original artist and the cover artist were in agreement, the video was ultimately taken down.
That didn’t stop the controversy though. Twitter users sought to understand how Linkin Park could make such demands if their version of the song was not used and people further wondered what would have happened if the cover band agreed to let the campaign use their version. Could the original copyright holder (Linkin Park) still pull rank in order to control how their music is used?
The answer is legally “yes”. The original artist of a musical work often retains rights in the underlying musical composition which would allow them to control how a cover version is used.
The reason behind this answer is not so straightforward, however, as copyrights in music are complex and the facts vary from case to case. Of relevance is that there can be multiple copyrights within a work and a cover of a song is merely a derivative of the original version. Copyrights in music may cover the rights of the composer, producer, etc. There are also numerous licenses available for music including mechanical, public performance, and synchronization.
Going back to the cover artist, depending on the terms of the mechanical license or sync license they created the cover under, the original artist may still retain their rights to a portion of the work.
The overarching lesson from this Twitter dustup is that an original artist may still control how their music is used, even if a cover artist obtains a proper license and gives a third-party permission to use their unique version. Cover artists and those licensing cover versions should be prepared for this possibility.
If you are facing a similar situation or you are an original copyright holder of a musical work and you object to the way a cover version is being used, your best bet is to speak with a copyright attorney to understand your rights and what remedies may be available to deal with the situation. If you need help reviewing your options, we are here to help. Simply contact our office at 888-666-0062 to schedule a consultation.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.