Legal Compliances To Follow To Make A Cover Song / Cover Band

Before embarking on this issue,let's clearly understand what a cover version is. A cover song is the everyday term for a song that is being performed or recorded by a different artist(s) than the one who wrote it or the one that first made it famous.It is the re-working, updating, or interpretation of a previously recorded and released song by someone other than the original artist.

Boyce Avenue - A Famous Cover

How do cover versions help artists :

A cover song gets you noticed. Often, a cover song is the biggest seller in a band's repertoire. Listeners will be attracted to your band because they hear the familiar song, and they may then want to hear your own songs. They may even buy your own songs.

Cover versions or various renditions of popular, successful songs/ tunes are often performed/ recorded by new or up-and-coming artists as tribute to the original artist/composer or to achieve initial success when their unfamiliar original material would be less likely to be successful. 

Bob Dylan's Knocking On Heaven's Door was covered by Guns And Roses


Songs are creative works that are protected by copyright law. .A cover of an original song or any adaption of a musical work is governed by the law of copyright, under The Copyright Act, 1957.The copyright in a musical composition is originally held by its creators—the composer and lyricist—but songwriters typically transfer their copyrights to a music publisher who will help promote the song, administer royalty payments and enforce the copyright 


The blatant reproduction of any musical work would amount to infringement of copyright. An artist must get license to avoid infringement of copyright & the lawsuits which follow sach a violation .What type of license to procure for your cover version depends upon its nature 


The rock band or solo performer does not need a license to perform a cover song live. It is the club, restaurant, or concert venue that is supposed to obtain a Performance License or licenses for generally hosting music performances, which includes the live music as well as the recorded music they play over the sound system. These are licenses from PROs, or Performing Rights organizations, namely The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) ,Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI),.SESAC, Inc. The Harry Fox Agency

These organizations sell licenses on their websites. They also send agents to clubs and restaurants to try to get them to buy a license. To perform a cover song, just be sure the venue has the PRO licensing 

Organizations dealing with Performing Rights in US

PPL and IPRL deal with performance licenses in India


 If your band, instead of simply wanting to cover a song live, decides it wants to record & sell a cover version of a copyrighted song, you'll need what's called a Mechanical License. A mechanical license is so named because the author of the original song does not have to give his or her permission for you to get one—it's “mechanical.” A mechanical is any song recording, including vinyl, CDs, or digital downloads.


The Harry Fox Agency is the largest agency in the music business for such licenses, coordinating the royalties between the various constituents (music publishers, performers, etc.).It  is a non-profit agency established in 1927 by the National Music Publishers Association to handle mechanical licensing on songs.  Harry Fox will issue you a limited quantity license for song recordings that will be produced and distributed within the United States. This service is called "Song File." Harry Fox charges a $15.00 processing fee per song and the royalty fees for the number of copies you estimate you will sell. If you are making more copies, they have plans for that as well. This is a convenient way to get the mechanical license.


A mechanical license is the compulsory license that allows you to record and sell someone else's song in the U.S., and in exchange you pay royalties to the songwriter at statutory rates. which is 9.1 cents per copy for songs 5 minutes and less. For songs longer than 5 minutes, it is 1.75 cents per minute, rounded up.

Contact CMRRA in Canada and the Harry Fox Agency in the USA  .The mechanical license covers reproduction and distribution. It does not cover public performance and display.The Harry Fox Songfile service can only be used for song recordings that will be produced and sold in the U.S. If the recording is going to be produced or sold outside the U.S., you need to contact the publisher directly. Songs produced or sold outside the U.S. are not subject to the statutory mandatory licensing, and the songwriter or publisher can deny you the right to record the song and can set any price.


When you decide to make a video of the cover version.even if it's just a small portion of the song,

What you are going to need here is a Synch (or synchronisation) Licence. You may think that you're using your own recording here and that you have paid for permission to record the song, but you haven't paid to have the lyrics and music synched to the video footage. To legally publish cover songs on YouTube  you need a synch license as well as a mechanical license.Mechanical is for audio-only; synchronization is for video.

What is a synchronization license?

A synchronization license is permission to release a new recording of a song that someone else wrote, in video format. Common uses of a synchronization license include YouTube videos of cover songs, wedding DVDs, and commercial and corporate promotions.

Let me illustrate with an example If you use an original recording belonging to someone else (for example an actual Beatles recording featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison) you will need a synchronization license to pay the composer for the right to use the composition (music notes and lyrics that make up a song), and also a master license to pay the artists for the right to use the recording(.recording of musicians playing the song) Often the composers and artists are the same people, but not always. For this reason, there are two types of licenses to protect the two types of creations:

For medleys, each song part requires a separate synchronization license.


You don't need a synchronization license for songs that you wrote yourself or songs that are in the public domain.

How to get a synchronization license?

Getting a synchronization license can be complicated. A synchronization license is obtained by asking the copyright holder for permission directly. This is typically the composer or their publisher, unless ownership has changed hands. 

By law, synchronization rights holders maintain total control of their works. This means they can set any fee, take all the time they need, and reject the license outright. Many factors affect the response, including budget, use, and even the current workload of the copyright holder’s processing department. 

Another option, which is likely easier:The copyright in a musical composition is originally held by its creators—the composer and lyricist—but songwriters typically transfer their copyrights to a music publisher who will help promote the song, administer royalty payments and enforce the copyright.Getting a compulsory cover license is four step process that includes the following:

1. Obtain license or consent from the original owner of the right in the work; or

2. Giving a notice of intention to make such sound recordings, 

3. Provide copies of all covers or labels with which the sound recordings are to be sold, 

4. Pay, in the prescribed manner to the owner of rights in the work, royalties in respect of all such sound recordings to be made by him, at the rate fixed by the Copyright Board in this behalf.

There are many companies in the music business that can be helpful in bringing your music to the sync market. Traditionally, great creative music publishers and labels have been successful at helping this process, and in the last decade or so, sync houses have also been helpful in doing this work.

When happens if you don't get a license?Making unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings is against the law and may subject you to civil and criminal liability. A civil law suit could hold you responsible for thousands of dollars in damages. Criminal charges may leave you with a felony record, accompanied by up to five years of jail time and fines up to $250,000. 

Will you get caught ? May be or may be not ? The importance of respecting the copyright law goes way beyond "not getting caught". When you have the proper licensing in place, you can release your music with confidence. You build a reputation as a professional So support your peers, your colleagues, and the hard-working musicians like you who create beautiful music for the world. Be a good example and feel great about making your music legally.

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