Law Office of Jason H. Rosenblum, PLLC

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Do I Need Permission or a License to Perform a Cover of a Song? **Attorney Advertising**

Whether you’re a wedding singer, you sing in a local band, or perform music with your school or university, chances are you’ve performed a “cover” of a song that was created by another artist or producer.
But, when does merely performing someone else’s song or musical material become a violation of intellectual property rights?  And, more importantly, do you need permission or a license to cover a song in the first place?
The answer depends on a number of factors such as:

  • How are you performing the music?
  • How will the music be distributed, if at all?
  • How old is the song or music?

If you are merely performing a song privately in your home and not streaming it live over the web or in a public forum, you won’t need permission from the original artist or production company. But, if you are hosting a performance in a commercial or public area or you’re seeking to make your version of the cover available for sale as part of a record or as a download, or if you want to upload your cover onto the internet, you will likely need permission and likely even a license to move forward. Publishers usually assign public performance rights to one of the three following societies, in which case you may secure performance rights from that society:
Music is Protected by Copyright
When a song is created, there are generally two copyrights. The first is on the recording that is made, and the second is on the written sheet music of the song and the lyrics or composition.  When you create a “cover” of a song, your unique recording of that song will belong to you for copyright purposes, but the copyright for the actual song or composition will still belong with the original artist or music producer.
The permission that you’ll need to seek in order to record or distribute your version of the song from the original artist or publisher is called a “Mechanical License”. This allows you to record and distribute music that someone else holds rights to. You will also have to pay a royalty to the publisher on the number of copies you manufacture.  Harry Fox Agency, Inc. is an example of a corporation that issues licenses on behalf of the copyright owner or agent, usually to a record company, granting the record company the right to reproduce and distribute a specific composition at an agreed upon fee per unit manufactured and sold.
A final license called a “Synchronization License” may also be needed if you intend to make a video of your version of the cover song. This allows you to have the lyrics and the music synched to video footage that can then be promoted on sites like YouTube or Vimeo. If you are missing this license, your video may be removed.
Older Songs May Have Lost Their Copyright Protection
Copyrights don’t last forever, and it’s possible that you won’t need any permission to record and distribute a cover song.  A track typically loses copyright protection 50 to 75 years after the death of the writer. Once that time has passed, the publisher no longer has rights over the song and it is considered part of the public domain where anyone can use and distribute the song as they please.
Before You Record, Talk to A Copyright Attorney
As with most intellectual property issues, it’s hard to “undo” infringement damage once it’s done.  Before you decide to record a cover song and make it available outside of a live audience setting, talk to a copyright attorney to ensure that you have permission to do so and would be protected from infringement claims. If we can help you evaluate your options, 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.
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