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Is Your YouTube Cover Song Legal?

Joshua Lockhart 30-01-2015

Musicians of MakeUseOf, you’re always wanting to build up your popularity, aren’t you? Of course you are.

A popular method for those desiring a quick-and-easy rise to stardom is by posting cover songs of popular music on YouTube YouTube Music: Easily Discover New Music Videos on YouTube Read More . With covers like this Taylor Swift mash-up even getting support from the original artist, it’s no wonder they are abundant.

But consider this: what are the legal ramifications of your song?

To The No-Name Artist


First, let’s be clear: I’m not condoning breaking the law. I’m not condoning breaking the law. I’m not condoning breaking the law. But the reality is that – with the constant flow of unsolicited uploads and covers of popular music – yours is likely not going to be caught in the music business fishnet.

In the past, this was certainly more of an issue, but these days, due to the sheer amount of existing similar content, it’s akin to playing a quick cover at a small college house show. Let’s put it this way: Do you expect to get over 100 views? Maybe 1000? While there are guidelines for these numbers, you’re probably going to be okay.

Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer. But also keep in mind that I haven’t ever been sued. Yet.

The reality is that if you’re just getting started, your one or two Sam Smith webcam covers probably aren’t going to get taken down. You likely won’t even receive legal contact from the publisher. However, once you start garnering some attention, this is where things get tricky.

To The Moderately-To-Very-Well-Known Artist


What’s your YouTube view Want More YouTube Views? 5 Key Tips To Follow Here’s the situation: you've been putting out YouTube videos for a while now and you aren't sure why your viewership hasn't skyrocketed. It’s not uncommon, and people ask how to increase video views all the... Read More count? Maybe 7000 to 10000 views? More? Awesome. Well… this means you’re getting some attention, and this also means there’s more of a chance that your covers will get some legal attention.

You should know that there are two forms of copyright for songs. First, there’s copyright to the song’s words and music as well as for for performances, and then there’s something you might be a little more interested in (even though both matter), the copyright for the actual sound recording.

Now, if you’re just recording the cover and selling it online Great Sites To Sell Your Own Music On Have you decided to sell the music you so painstakingly create? However you decide to distribute your music, MakeUseOf has got you covered! The websites here have tried and true services to help you. Read More , this is incredibly easy to do. All you need is to obtain something called a mechanical license from a licensing company such as the Harry Fox Agency or Limelight. Typically, you just need to pay something in the realm of ~$0.10 per (estimated) sale.

The issue is that we’re posting videos on YouTube, and this means we’re pairing the audio with a video. This requires something called a sync license. Sync licenses – in layman’s terms – are these nasty little mystical nuggets belonging to the music business dragon that absolutely no one likes.

Acquiring The Sync License


So typically, in order to acquire a sync license, you just need to ask the publisher. Unfortunately, there are no set prices for this kind of thing – we don’t even have a pricing scale available! Sometimes you can get it for free, and other times it’s going to cost you dearly. Hopefully, it won’t be the latter.

Below are two of the biggest music publishers out there and links to sections of their website which will help you acquire a sync license.

  • SESAC: This will allow you to directly submit a request to the publisher.
  • ASCAP: This is more of a how-to section of the site targeted at independent filmmakers, which technically you are if you’re uploading a cover song to YouTube.

Copyright Covered

So there you have it. In order to properly upload your cover, you’re going to need the sync license. In order to sell and distribute your cover, you will need a mechanical license.

Granted, we’re always open to receiving input from our readers, so if you have anything to add, we’d love to hear from you.

Have you ever acquired a sync license? How much did you end up paying?

Image Credits: Ethan Hassick, Sasha Willins, Mark Runyon, jm3 on Flickr

Related topics: Indie Music, YouTube.

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