Producing and putting up a cover song can have great advantages in several ways. But do you need permission to upload a cover song to Youtube?
It is a hugely popular activity. You will see cover songs from everyone from small children performing for grandma to independent artists to the professionals. And surprisingly, some of these covers are the most viewed videos on Youtube.
Are They All Legal?
The vast majority of these videos are posted on Youtube without the permission of the copyright holder of the songs. Does that mean they are posted illegally? Is it likely to end up in court if people start being sued? Let’s find out exactly what the situation is.
So Why Do It?
Why post cover songs on YouTube at all? Well, one thing YouTube is quite good at, other than posting ads in the middle of a song you are listening to, is their logistics. They do a lot of work to find out and advise you what works. And, of course, what doesn’t.
One thing that they have established is that if you have a good version of a cover song, then it can be of value. This is because it encourages people to check out your other songs. And that could include your original material.
Expanding Your Market Awareness
Using covers that people want to listen to expands your potential market. You will get new listeners and possibly new followers. And you will get extra “hits” on your songs. But once again, we must ask, is it legal? So, let’s go through what is allowed and what isn’t.
In recent times this has become a topic of some discussion in the music business. Publishing companies and record labels have started to try and enforce certain types of copyright. It has resulted in videos being taken down and, in a few cases, lawsuits. Let’s start by understanding music copyright terminology.
A Mechanical License
You will hear this term used a lot. It refers to the physical aspects of music production. The actual manufacture of CDs, etc. If you want to sell and distribute your version of a song written by someone else, a cover, you will need a mechanical license. This will be obtained from the publisher of the song. You then pay them the appropriate “mechanical” royalties.
You can secure these song licenses through some third-party organizations if you need to. CD Baby, as an example, has an excellent service. However, this type of license will only protect you for the distribution of the song. It does not cover any associated video that goes with it.
So, if you are planning to sell downloads or press CDs of a cover song, you must acquire the necessary license. There is no way around that. However, that license will not apply to any associated published video that goes with it.
What Is Publishing?
Let’s just clarify this point quickly so that the meaning is crystal clear. The Copyright Act defines the meaning of the word “publishing.”
Simply put, the definition of publishing is “the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership.” This may include:
In today’s world of high-tech recording, this may include samples of another piece of work by another artist.
What if a company or individual offers to distribute or sell copies of such a product to another business or group of persons? That will still be considered publication, and the rules will apply. However, it is important to note that the public performance of a work or the display of such work does not constitute publication.
Let’s Summarize a Mechanical License
This license covers the reproduction and distribution of such material. It does not cover the public performance or any display.
And A Little Bit More
Some will tell you that to legally publish a cover song on YouTube; you will need what is known as a Sync License. If the song has not been placed in the public domain, you may need this Sync License. This, as well as a mechanical license, is needed to be legally published on Youtube.
How do you get one? You go to the copyright owner, which is probably the publishing company for the artist. You will then need to negotiate a rate agreeable to both parties for the license to be issued.
The Sync License
If you can get this license from the song’s publisher, it will allow you to use the song with your video. You may make the point that those rights are also granted to the people who own the sound recordings.
You would be right. But you are making your version of a song that exists. You don’t have to deal with whoever owns the master recording, just the publisher.
A Still Image
And you can’t get around this by using a still rather than a moving image with the music. In the eyes of the law, a still is considered a video. You would still need a sync license.
If you have to negotiate with the publisher, you are not in a strong position. You likely will get four kinds of responses:
- First, those that just ignore you.
- Second, those that say go away.
- Third, those that will negotiate unreasonably, asking for ridiculous amounts of cash.
- And finally, those that will negotiate and give you permission providing you meet their requirements.
Does this sound like a lot of work? Well, yes, it is. Is that what YouTubers all do? Of course not.
Probably. These two licenses, Mechanical and Sync, are two different things, issued for two different reasons that may or may not apply to one piece of work. Sounds like you have to start jumping through plenty of hoops to get a cover song on YouTube.
But, there are thousands and thousands of covers produced and uploaded. Did they all go through this process? As I say, of course not. So let’s get right down to the question asked at the beginning.
Do You Need Permission To Upload A Cover Song To Youtube?
I have enclosed the above information because they are things and terminologies you will come across. And before you start getting visions of hiring Perry Mason to get you out of big trouble, this is the actual reality.
Where Have All The Hoops Gone?
Of all the people who upload to YouTube, very, very few jump through all the hoops to do so. They don’t get the licenses I have just been discussing. But, it is very rare for them to suffer any recriminations, are having their videos taken down? Very rarely, but why?
The Monetization System
This is an internal system that has been developed by YouTube. The idea is to let the usual licensing processes that would be necessary be bypassed.
The Content ID System
This is an impressive system created by YouTube to ensure that everyone with a stake gets paid what they are owed. And that saves all the hoops.
It is a program that analyzes every single part of every single video that everyone uploads. It will identify if there is any content that would be subject to copyright. This might include the recording or the images.
If it identifies copyrighted material, the ID system will set a claim against the video automatically for the rights holder. So if you upload a cover song, this is what will happen:
- You will be notified by YouTube you do not own the rights of the song.
- You will notice a claim against it from the publisher.
- Any income generated by advertising will be paid to the rights holder.
What If They Find Something?
In the Video Manager section of your channel, you will see a subsection entitled Copyright Notices. You will be notified of any claims against your upload there.
This doesn’t mean it’s time to get Perry Mason involved. It simply means YouTube has identified copyright material. The owners of the copyright can decide to withhold permission, but that is rare. Most agree providing ads are placed in and around (and sometimes in) your content that earns them money.
But What If The Publisher Doesn’t Want Their Song Used?
This is a problem because you have already used it. It doesn’t mean you are in trouble, so don’t panic. After all, you didn’t know when it was uploaded.
Content ID then offers the publisher some options. What can happen is one of the following:
- The video can be blocked in its entirety.
- Restrict the viewing in certain countries.
- Mute the sound.
- Activate a block on certain devices.
It doesn’t often happen. Even publishers like to make money. Yes, that was rather a tongue-in-cheek observation.
And speaking of making money, the opportunities to make money out of your recordings will be decreased. You would expect that. But you can still:
- Offer it as a download.
- Send it to the major streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music.
While the income streams are small and, in some cases, very small, it is still worthwhile. People may then go and listen to your original tracks.
To get the most out of YouTube, it is advantageous to know a few things, as we have seen. So, if you want to learn a little more, here is some excellent reading material.
- YouTube Secrets
- Music Copyright: An Essential Guide for the Digital Age
- Social Media Promotion For Musicians
Looking to Record and Get Your Music Out There?
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You may also like our handy article on Top Free Garageband Plug-Ins, 8GB or 16GB RAM for Music Production, Steps to Start Your Music Career, What Is A Sound Engineer And How Do I Become One, Best Online Jamming Websites, and YouTube Music vs Spotify for more useful information on making music.
Do You Need Permission To Upload A Cover Song To Youtube? – Final Thoughts
Permission in advance isn’t necessary. Therefore, you can rest easy in your bed. YouTube will take the vast majority of the headaches out of doing a “cover.” So what are you waiting for? Let’s make some music.
Until next time, let your music play.