Recordings of cover songs

June 28, 2011

Distributing recordings of cover songs:

Many artists and bands incorporate cover songs (other people’s music) into their live performances, or play just for fun. Some bands make an entire career out of this while others may have a couple covers that they have ‘made their own’ and play regularly.

Either way, there are systems in place to compensate songwriters when their material is performed live such as ASCAP and BMI services. But what about recording cover songs? What about selling CDs or downloads of covers?

There are a couple things you should know before you start down this path:

1. Permission – compulsory licenses.
For all music distribution (selling or non-selling) you always need to obtain a compulsory license (usually a flat fee) and pay royalties. A great resource for information and acquiring licenses is Limelight or The Harry Fox Agency.
2. Public domain – royalty free.
Some songs fall under ‘public domain’ and are free to use. These include several old hymns, traditionals, and songs registered before 1923. U.S. copyright law states:
  1. Works created after 1/1/1978 – life of the longest surviving author plus 70 years – earliest possible PD date is 1/1/2048.
  2. Works registered before 1/1/1978 – 95 years from the date copyright was secured.
  3. Works registered before 1/1/1923 – Copyright protection for 75 years has expired and these works are in the public domain.

For more information on performing and recording cover songs click here.

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