How to Record Cover Songs? The Legality and Checklist

1.) Visit the Harry Fox Song File.

2.) Use the song file as a tool for licensing cover songs quickly. They act as a representative of music publishers and songwriters. The primary advantage is that instead of painstakingly looking for the song publishers (which can be sometimes very difficult to find) and requesting for a license; you can simply use the HFA song file for your licensing needs.

Bear in mind that you are now going to pay for a mechanical license which is the right to reproduce music in physical copies and digital distribution. Once the license has been issued to you upon payment, you are now free to create a covers of the song and release it for sale. The number of copies that you are allowed to create will be stated in the license.

Checklist#2: Are you posting it on the Internet or YouTube?

If you are creating a video with a sound recording of a cover song; then you still need to be aware of the rights you are exploiting. In You Tube, you have seen a lot of artists covering songs online, yet they are not paying anything because they do not earn anything as well.
But the music publishers see this as a big revenue opportunity for them as there are LOTS of artist covering songs online particularly in YouTube. It is possible that these publishers enter into an agreement with You Tube regarding this matter. However the artist covering the song does not need to pay anything.

For legality, make sure you attribute the owners of the song (such as the music publisher or the songwriters) correctly and mentioned it on your video. If there is no correct attribution, the video sound would be muted or in some extreme cases the video would be removed upon request of the copyright holders.

Also if you are recording cover songs and posted it in your own website, be careful of the nature of the content you are publishing. But in most cases, if your website is educational and non-profit (where readers would be free to read your content without obliged fee) and you are using the cover song as a demonstration for learning, then the nature is non-profit and the use constitute a “fair use

To be safe, I would advise to consult an entertainment lawyer for extreme use of cover songs such as your entire website content material strongly depends on it. But for small usage, like you are only covering the song in less than a minute (rather than the full song) and then you are using it for non-profit and educational reasons, then it most likely falls under “fair use”.

Checklist#3: Are you distributing or available the recording for download?

This is where most infringement cases are being caught and noticed by the copyright holders. It is because they are now shared and distributed. Even though the nature of the work is non-profit and for personal reasons, I would advise to never share it to your friends or have it available for download online UNLESS you are (should satisfy both to be legal):

a.) The one writing the song.
b.) The one creating the sound recording

The risk is very high if you share it to your friends. You can never be sure what your friends will do to your created cover recordings. They might share it online; upload it on file sharing servers, etc. When it gets downloaded, and when the server or third-party entity is earning money to it. This can catch music publishers’ attention and report the case to the FBI to trace the origin. The agents will then start knocking at your doors!

Content last updated on July 29, 2012