by Sue Basko, esq.
HUGE NEW UPDATE! - You can now post covers of many very popular songs on Youtube without the need for a synch license. Youtube has made it very easy. This is ONLY for Youtube. Youtube has worked out this deal with music publishers and it is good only on Youtube. Of course, you can share and embed your Youtube videos elsewhere.
For more info, also read: FREE MUSIC FOR YOUR YOUTUBE VIDEOS
HOW IT WORKS:
Go to this MUSIC POLICIES page: https://www.youtube.com/music_policies
Search for the song you'd like to make a cover version of. Just as an example, I would like to make a cover version of the old Cat Stevens song, "The Wind." I go to the search bar and search for "Cat Stevens." I could also search on the song name, but I think that will send me too many unrelated songs. These are the results:
Let's look at this up close:
"If you perform a cover: Playback - Viewable worldwide." So you may perform a cover of this song, it will appear worldwide, and ads can appear.
Notice, this original recording may also be used on Youtube videos.
If you search through the MUSIC POLICIES, you will see that most popular songs will allow you to make a YOUTUBE cover version -- for free, with no licensing. However, if you want to make a recording to sell or give away, or to put on any other site besides Youtube, you are going to need a license.
THIS OLD INFORMATION BELOW STILL PERTAINS TO ANY SONG THAT IS NOT LISTED ON THE YOUTUBE MUSIC POLICIES AS AVAILABLE FOR USE FOR COVER SONGS:
There are many videos of cover songs on Youtube. Is this legal? First, what we mean by a cover song is a song written by someone other than you. Many musicians like to turn on a flip camera, sing and play a famous song, and post the video to Youtube. That is what this blog post is about.
If you want to record a cover song, whether you give it away, sell it, or stream it, you need what is called a mechanical license. Please read these blog posts to learn about that:
Recording a Cover Song: Most Basic Things in Music Law #1
Cover Songs: Performing and Recording Them Legally
Cover Songs: Performing and Recording Them Legally
If you want to make a video of you playing and singing a cover song to put onto Youtube, to be totally legal, you need a synchronization license, which is usually called a synch license.
However, most musicians do not bother with getting a synch license for their Youtube cover song videos. Read the list below about this.
This is how it works: The intellectual property of a song is the song lyrics and the musical composition. The copyright on those belong to the people that wrote the lyrics and music, known as the songwriters. Sometimes the songwriters assign their copyrights over to a publisher. Some songwriters self-publish. Some songwriters self-publish and assign their copyrights over to a publishing administrator. This person or company holds the right to decide who gets to do what with the music. A mechanical license is provided for in law and the song copyright owner must give a mechanical license to a person who wants to record the song and that person must pay statutory royalties for how many copies made. However, there is no statutory right to a synchronization license, and so the songwriter or publisher can decide if they want to let you have a synch license, and if so, how much they want to charge you. They can say no and they can set any price. They can charge one person a lot and another person a little. It is totally at their discretion.
If you want to get a synch license to make a cover song Youtube video, you will contact the owner of the copyright directly. As explained above, that may be the songwriter or it may be a publisher. Other blog posts here show how to find the songwriter and publisher.
If the songwriter owns the rights to his or her song, they may allow you to post a video. Get this in writing. Major publishers do synch licensing directly through their websites. For example, Warner Chappell is a major music publisher. The synch licensing form on their website asks for all your information, as well as for your Youtube channel. They can tell you yes or no and can set any price. If all you can pay is $10 or $20, it is probably not worth the while of a major publisher to go to the trouble of checking you out and issuing you a synch license.
When you post a cover song video, be sure to do a good job. If you play or sing very poorly, or change the lyrics, or add obscene or indecent elements to the song or video, you are most likely to get into trouble. No artist wants their song wrecked!
GIVE CREDIT !!!! When you post the youtube video, be sure to say it is a Cover. In the information that will show on the page, list the name of the song and the songwriters' names. If the song was made famous by a particular artist or band, name them. Try to get this information correct and spell it right.
What happens if you go ahead and post a cover song video to youtube without a synch license? A whole list of things can happen, from negative to positive. Here is a list from the worst to the best:
1) You can be sued and the copyright holder can demand money. They can do this with no warning and with no attempt to have the video removed. In a copyright infringement lawsuit, the person suing you can demand a great deal of money, even if you did not make any money with the song. However, being sued for having a song on youtube that infringes copyright is highly unlikely to happen. Only a true copyright troll would do this. But, it could happen.
2) Youtube could take down the video. They might do this at the request of the copyright holder. If this happens repeatedly, Youtube may delete your channel.
Usually, a publisher has decided that a certain song can or cannot have cover song videos up on Youtube. If you see a song with many covers up on Youtube, it is likely that yours will also stay up. If yours is the only cover, that may be a sign that the publisher is having covers of that song removed.
If someone makes a complaint to Youtube that a certain video infringes their copyright and that they want it removed, Youtube will usually remove the video very quickly. Most publishers are satisfied with this and very few go on to file lawsuits.
3) Youtube could leave the video up, but post ads next to it, such as telling where to buy the song recorded by the major artist that made it famous.
4) Youtube could send you an email saying a certain publisher owns the song publishing rights, but saying you do not need to do anything. Then the video stays up -- unless and until the publisher decides to take action.
5) Youtube could leave the video up and people can watch it and nothing bad happens. Many major artists and their publishers actually like cover song videos because it is good publicity for them. It also usually brings them more fame and more sales. Also, it is very good for fan relations to have the fans posting videos. Conversely, it is very bad for fan relations to harass the fans.
6) Youtube might leave up the video, people might watch it, and they might like your music and want to hear and see more of you. This has happened to a number of Youtube artists who have used Youtube covers as a stepping stone to bigger things.
MORE INFORMATION: Youtube provides a lot of information about copyright. You can access the many pages by CLICKING HERE.
ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND, there is risk in violating copyright on Youtube. If your recording and video are respectable and decent, there is probably little risk.