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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The Legalities of Covering a Song??

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Din Of Win, Oct 30, 2013.


  1. Hi All,

    Ugh.

    So, I had (what i thought was) a good idea a few weeks ago. There are a TON of awesome bands and musicians in my local area. With the holidays coming up, i thought, "It'd be cool if we all recorded a holiday song, put it all up on soundcloud/bandcamp/facebook, and have people donate money to the local foodbank."

    Everyone was stoked. I have about 30 bands and singer/songwriters ready to record and contribute a song. 3 local recording studios are giving GIANT discounts to bands wanting to record a single song (we're talking, like $10 an hour!!).

    But alas... a cloud as descended.

    One band is saying that EVERYONE needs to get copyright permission from the original artist/copyright holder to record a cover song. The doom and gloom has set in, and now people are saying they don't want to go through the hassle or risk "bein' sued" for something that was suppose to be for charity.

    I know nothing when it comes to stuff like this. I've recorded coversongs with friends. I've covered songs with bands at shows. I've put up youtube bass covers... none of this has ever come up. But, this band seems to know their stuff... are they right?

    Help!
     
  2. You can't make money off of someones intellectual property without paying the royalties due them.

    You need permission to sell a recording that isn't your original work, or public domain.

    $$
     
  3. father of fires

    father of fires Commercial User

    Nov 29, 2006
    BALTIMORE CITY
    Chief of Medicine at Damnation Audio
    Yes, you can be sued without permission. But that's if the original artist/writer/label cares.
     
  4. See, i can understand that, but the "charity" part is where things get wonky.

    Also, tracking 'classic' songs like "Joy To the World" or "Jingle Bells" seems super difficult.
     
  5. JakeF

    JakeF

    Apr 3, 2012
    If the bands are in a position that being sued would actually cost them something, then they have already "made it."

    A LOT of holiday songs are public domain as well.
     
  6. MatticusMania

    MatticusMania LANA! HE REMEMBERS ME!

    Sep 10, 2008
    Pomona, SoCal
    Heres an idea. Why not have all the bands write and record an original Christmas/Holiday song?

    Ive heard most of the classics enough as it is.
     
  7. Hmm, maybe have the bands summit existing previously recorded copies of their songs along with written limited use consent for the project.
     
  8. theretheyare

    theretheyare Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing: Arkham Vacuum Tube Amplification
    That it is for charity makes no difference at all regarding mechanical rights. That said, to have each band write their own (or make their own version of public domain material, as long as it doesnt rip off someone else's registered arrangement of the tune too obviously) seems an excellent idea. (you might find registrations of public domain material, but that should typically refer to the arrangement only, not the tune itself)
     
  9. YES!!! Big +1. I love the Christmas, but dread Christmas music because of the repetitive covers of songs I've heard a thousand times per year for the 28 years I've been on this earth (with a few exceptions). If writing a song is too taxing for these groups, then have them cover a public domain song and limit your risk.

    I know that last part sounds contradictory to my previous statement, but it's a project for charity. Sometimes these concerns can be overlooked.
     
  10. BassCliff

    BassCliff

    May 17, 2012
    So. Cal.
    Hi,

    If you contact the owner of the song and explain to them what you're doing, they might grant you permission for real cheap/free.


    Thank you for your indulgence,

    BassCliff
     
  11. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    A friend of mine bought rights for a number of jazz standards that he recorded on a CD. He told me the process was pretty painless and inexpensive.
     
  12. Kmonk

    Kmonk

    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan, Nordstrand Pickups, Korg , Conquest Sound
    No it doesn't. You still need permission. It's that difficult to do.

    I was in a band that received permission to record Greg Allman's "Just Ain't Easy", another that received permission to record Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain" and another that received permission to record John Waite's "When I See You Smile".
     
  13. dickfitts

    dickfitts

    Jan 18, 2012
    I've recorded songs by Mojo Nixon, Elvis, etcetcetc....takes a couple emails per song, and usually you don't have to pay. Just tell the owner exactly what you're doing - a charity compilation of local bands - and you'll be just fine. Seriously, those kids music compilations you hear? It's doable. Take the next 24 hours, research the process (i.e., contact an owner, do the motions, then repeat as necessary) ... Then off you go. Take care!
     
  14. dickfitts

    dickfitts

    Jan 18, 2012
    Also...if you're using the word "donate" (or, better yet, "suggested donation") rather than "buy"...you're probably clear just on that, eh? I'd think so, but...
     
  15. People can also do songs that are in the public domain... right now in the USA that means older than 1922.

    A combination of old public domain classics, and new original compositions can help lessen the paperwork for the whole album. All that will remain is getting the permissions to record the other tunes still under copyright.
     
  16. IPYF

    IPYF

    Mar 31, 2011
    If money changes hands you need to clear permissions and permissions almost always cost money. You're a lucky devil if you're getting it for free. You can't trick the system and if you get caught trying to you'll get your pants sued clean off you.

    You have to pay the original artist a percentage of royalties if you want to sell something. That's just the law yo. Usually the bigger they are the more they'll take.

    People are real serious about it too for the most part. For instance the guy who made the viral Melodyne cover of the Jurassic Park theme had all his Youtube revenue taken off him by Universal, because it isn't his song and he had no rights agreement to any revenue he made from his adaptation,
     
  17. Music Attorney

    Music Attorney

    Feb 22, 2004
    No need for Ughs or clouds.

    If you are recording a new version of a song that's already been released (i.e., making a "cover"), the only thing you need to do in terms of licensing the composition is pay mechanical royalties to the publisher(s) of the song. The term of art for the license is a "mechanical license" and the Harry Fox Agency is likely to make this process relatively painless. Absent agreement from the publisher(s) of the song to accept less, the most you would pay is 9.1 cents per download.

    To be clear, this isn't about videos or other forms of making a "cover" of a song. We're talking about making a new master recording to put up on iTunes or on a website so that people can download the recording for purchase or donation.

    As far as who would own the new recording, it would be a joint work (which I've written about elsewhere) unless there is formal paperwork in place among the contributors (e.g., singers, musicians, producers, mixers, pizza delivery guy, etc.).

    Does that help?
     
  18. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Given his username, and that I'm not an attorney, I can't claim to add any authority, but this is also what I understood. The original artist cannot prevent you from covering their song (in effect, that's your first amendment right), so no "permission" is needed, but you then owe them their royalties (because it's their intellectual property).
     
  19. ejmy

    ejmy

    Nov 30, 2008
    There you go
     
  20. MrM

    MrM Supporting Member

    Dec 18, 2010
    SF Bay Area
    My band has a song we want to cover, there are two publishers. One publisher is affiliated with Harry Fox Agency - no problem - we plan to proceed as described above. The other publisher is not with Harry Fox Agency and despite all of our internet search powers, we cannot find any information whatsoever about the publisher.

    Advice on how to properly proceed? :confused:
     

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