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Tribute bands - any "legal implications"?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Fender32, Jul 23, 2007.

  1. Fender32


    Jun 23, 2005
    Kent, England
    I'm just curious ....

    Do you guys who play in tribute bands (or possibly even cover bands) have to pay any form of "royalties" or fees, for making money from someone else's material :meh: ? Are any legal restrictions on what you can and can't do with a song?

    Relax, this isn't an ethical debate :smug: , I just wonder how it works!

    Thanks in advance!

  2. DanielleMuscato


    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    We don't play covers, so I don't deal with this personally, and I'm not an attorney, so what I'm saying is my opinion only and not legal advice, you should consult an professional legal counsel blah blah blah...

    One of the rights protected by copyright is called the "performing right." This is the right to perform copyrighted material for the public. Private enjoyment of copyrighted material is included when you purchase a CD, DVD, etc, but if you play the music on a jukebox at a business or hire a band, who then plays copyrighted material, you (the business) must have 1) a license to do so and 2) pay a fee each time the song is performed.

    As I understand it, the venue is ultimately responsible for paying these fees, and they go to BMI/ASCAP/SESAC. They have to get a license from these agencies and report what music is played there. I think that the companies also can estimate what music is played. They do this by tracking what songs are played on radio stations, and do some kind of complicated math to come up with a probability of which songs are performed where & when. The club pays a fee, and the organizations that collect the fee distribute royalties to the artists who registered their copyrights with that organization. BMI, etc sometimes sues bars, clubs, and restaurants that fail to obtain a license and pay the appropriate royalties.

    As I understand it, you shouldn't have to worry about this. It is the venue's responsibility. I'd imagine that it is good etiquiette, though, to leave a copy of your set-list with the venue so they can report the songs you performed. Like I said, we play original songs only, so I don't know how this works in practice.

    - Dave
  3. QORC


    Aug 22, 2003
    Elberon, New Jersey
    There was recently a case, out West I believe, where a bar got sued by Zeppelin for hosting a Zeppelin tribute band. And I think Zep won.

    That being said, it's true. Anytime anyone ANYWHERE does a cover of a copyrighted song, there are legal implications.

    But obviously performances of others' music goes on everywhere. It's not going to stop and it's rarely prosecuted. Beyond rarely.

    Your chances of getting nicked by some band? so small as to not even be discussed.
  4. cetera


    Apr 29, 2004
    Surrey, England
    Endorsing Artist: Spector Basses & Cort Basses
    I'm in the UK and I work for The Performing Right Society Ltd (the UK equivalent of GEMA in Germany) and I'm also a founding member of Europe's #1 KISS Tribute Band "Dressed To Kill".

    As far as I'm aware, the venues there have licences with GEMA. You are free to play whatever you like as long as you supply a set list to the venue when requested so that the songwriters can get paid. This will only apply to certain music venues and will be according to the 'Live Music Policy' operated localy by GEMA. Your best bet is to contact GEMA directly for confirmation. :)
  5. IanStephenson

    IanStephenson UnRegistered User

    Apr 8, 2006
    Playing the MUSIC is safe ground provided the venue is licensed.

    Where you MAY get into more sticky territory is when you go beyond playing a set of songs by band X, but start presenting yourself as a substitute for band X. If you use logo's that are based on the artwork of the original band you could run into copyright problems. If you use their name in your advertising you could be seen to be claiming an affiliation or endorsement which doesn't exist. Using photographs of the real band is likly to be encroaching copyright (unless you took them), and goes further down the line towards "passing off" (selling something as one brand, but substituting for another).

    At the very least you'd want to make it pretty clear that you're NOT the real band. If you put up flyers say "A night of live music by Led Zepplin", and don't actually have Led Zepplin there, then they can easily sue you.

    While its pretty far fetched that anyone is going to think that band X are playing the local bar, if you promote yourself in such a way as to derive benefit from the original bands good name you're on doggey ground - I can't sell clothing that looks like a designer brand, and put a logo on it that's almost identical to the original, and the same laws would apply to a band.

  6. I"d be interested to hear from some of the tribute guys here...I've never done the tribute thing, so I wouldn't no. You're usually covered if you play covers at a venue that has paid their ASCAP fees and what not, here in the US...but I don't know if doing a tribute performance falls under the same thing.
  7. cetera


    Apr 29, 2004
    Surrey, England
    Endorsing Artist: Spector Basses & Cort Basses
    The difference between 'tribute' and 'covers' is the level of stagecraft/showmanship you put into recreating a particular act. You're still playing the same songs so the rules are no different.....
  8. QORC


    Aug 22, 2003
    Elberon, New Jersey
    I don't know about that. I know 'tribute' bands in the States that don't attempt to look like the band or do a stage show like the band.

    I believe that here "tribute" means that you're pretty much doing the hits of an iconic band, and other material of theirs to fill up a night, and pretty much only doing that band.

    "cover" bands do covers of a variety of bands.
  9. cetera


    Apr 29, 2004
    Surrey, England
    Endorsing Artist: Spector Basses & Cort Basses

    The question though was whether the rules are any different for 'tributes' as opposed to 'covers' bands.... ;)
  10. el_Kabong


    Jul 11, 2005
    I hope this isn't too far off topic, but does anyone have any insight into the legalities of putting video of your band performing covers on the web? I'm thinking purely from the point of view of promoting the band to get work, not as an attempt to directly raise money from any sales etc.
  11. +1. There was a Sublime tribute band called "Sublime Remembered" that got sued because they claimed to have "former members of Sublime" and because they used Sublime's logo in their advertising.

  12. QORC


    Aug 22, 2003
    Elberon, New Jersey

    from a legal standpoint, I doubt it. copyrighted material is copyrighted material, no matter if you're covering 25 bands in one might or one. I think the risk remains small no matter what. Though I'm sure that big tribute bands probably would be more likely to be sued by the real band than your standard, meat-and-potatoes cover band playing at Joe's Sports Bar in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin.
  13. fenderx55


    Jan 15, 2005

    I was wondering about this too; I play in a cover band and we want to record our next show for a demo to pass out to bars--NOT for sale. That's legal right? I feel like the only problem is when there's $$$ involved.
  14. chakah

    chakah Rockin' the 80's

    Feb 2, 2006
    i'm no lawyer - but i think it'd be okay to record your demo to pass out to bars to try to secure gigs.
  15. Matthew Bryson

    Matthew Bryson Guest

    Jul 30, 2001
    My band has done this and we've discussed this issue a bit... I participated in a thread here at TB on the subject.

    I am under the impression based on these discussions that it is okay to post a recording or video of your band performing covers, but if you make that video available for download, you may be on a slippery slope. (I believe most hosting sites give you the option of making things available for listening / viewing or making it downloadable.)

    I have heard rumor recently (from a friend who is a member of BMI and ASCAP) that there has been some sort of a ruling on a case recently, and based on that, there may have been a precedent set that makes it okay to offer covers for free download (not for profit). I only know this as a rumor - I can't prove it.

    If it was left up to me, I would only offer originals for download and covers would be for listening / viewing only. I'd have to check my bands site - I think that's what we're still doing...
  16. maryhyphenbeth


    Jun 19, 2007
    What a great question. I was wondering the rules on cover bands too. Good food for thought. Thanks everyone!
  17. I know there are people on this board that are in tribute bands. C'mon guys, chime in here!
  18. FriscoBassAce


    Dec 29, 2004
    Frisco, Texas
    Independent Manufacturers Representative
    I'm in a Bon Jovi Tribute band....wildly popular here in Dallas. We are called "Blaze of Glory" and our artwork bears just a tiniest bit of resemblance to the New Jersey album artwork (the banner shape and the font used). We bill ourselves as "THE Bon Jovi Experience..." and that's on all of our logos and artwork.

    We don't pretend to be Bon Jovi, and no one has ever showed up at one of our shows saying they got ripped off.

    As for royalties or lawsuits...I think we're probably safe. We're not trying to pass ourselves off as Bon Jovi, and we don't sell any CD's of their music. We do have some self-recorded demos and a live video we use on our MySpace page, but for demonstration purposes only. I believe that we have the download features turned off.

    I have contemplated what would happen if we ever were looked into...I would imagine the worst thing that could happen is a cease and desist order. If we were to continue after a cease and desist order, then I think we would probably be open for a lawsuit.

    Just my thoughts though...I could be wrong!
  19. NOLA Bass

    NOLA Bass Mr. Worst Case Scenario Man Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2005
    New Orleans LA
    Well my tribute band is more of a tribute to a genre than one particular band. We play hard rock/heavy metal from the late 70's and early 80's primarily. I guess that ultimately lumps us in with a "regular" cover band despite the wigs, costumes and show.

    We do have a youtube video (snippets of a bunch of live performances) but it is to show the band only. We really just put it together so clubs could check us out along with fans. We only sell merch (shirts, hats) with our logo, which is not a rip off of a particular band per say. We don't sell DVD's, CD's, etc. b/c of the legal implications though.
  20. Sneckumhaw


    Apr 26, 2006
    That's hilarious, serial song swindlers that they were (coming from a fan).

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