Youtube Songs Letter

Youtube Songs Letter

Mail!  This email came today:

Sue Basko,

As a recording artist, your blog has provided more useful information about copyright laws than any other source I have found so far!  I have not yet recorded any cover songs (only originals), but am hoping to eventually.  I am just trying to educate myself first so that I can avoid violating copyright laws.

One question I have is this: if one were to record a cover song, and make a music video for YouTube using the recording, would it involve the same requirements as it would for a recording of a live cover on YouTube, or would that involve a separate set of requirements?

-- Scott

Dear Scott,

Keep in mind, copyright law was written long before something like Youtube was dreamt of.  So the law does not perfectly match the reality.

Most people who make a simple at-home cover song live-to video do not get any licensing.  Could they be sued for copyright infringement? Theoretically yes.  If they are recording a hit song, this is usually considered a fan video, and flattery.  Usually the very worst that will happen is their video may get flagged or have ads put on it.  Theoretically, synch licensing is needed, but this would be rare for anyone to get that unless they are actually a  pro, plan to put ads on it, or expect it to be a hit. 

If the video were to be insulting to the song or have inappropriate visuals, there could be trouble.

If a person is making a recording of a song or video to distribute or sell, they buy mechanical licensing, which is very inexpensive and easy to get from a company like Limelight

If that song recording is to be turned into a video, the person either will seek synch licensing or will not.  Again, theoretically, a youtube user can be sued for copyright infringement for using a cover song in a video without having a synch license from the music publisher.  More likely, if there is any adverse happening, it is likely to be that the video will be removed by youtube or will have ads added onto it.   If the person making the cover song video is a pro, plans to put ads on it, or expects it to be a hit, they will seek synch licensing. That is gotten from the publisher and they can say yes or no and can name any price.  Some publishers have a set price for youtube videos and make it easy.  Others do not.

Please note that what happens on youtube is different from what happens on other sites that allow the users to upload their own music videos.  Youtube has an automatic system in place that makes it easy for the music publishers to protect their rights.  Given the options, most publishers prefer to either place ads onto an infringing video or to have it removed or to simply leave it up as a fan video.  The rules and repercussions can be quite different on other video-upload websites. 

-- susan