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Copyright Law

How do you legally cover a song?


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July 28, 2014 8:41PM

To "cover" a song generally means to record your own version of a song that has previously been released by another artist. To do that legally, you must obtain a mechanical license from the publisher of the music. You do not need permission from the artist who recorded it previously (unless that artist also happens to be the author and publisher) nor do you need permission from the record company that released the previous version.

In the US, the maximum rate for a mechanical license for previously-recorded song is fixed; the publisher cannot prohibit you from making your own recording of the song by refusing you a license or by setting an outrageous price. You can, in theory, negotiate a lower rate, but most artists simply pay the statutory license fee.

The Harry Fox Agency is the clearinghouse for mechanical licenses for millions of songs. If they have the song in their catalog, it is quite easy to get the license from them. If the HFA does not have it in their catalog, you have to contact the publisher directly. You can usually find out the name and address of the publisher through ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. (Note: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC typically handle performing rights, not mechanical rights; they are not equivalent to HFA--they are just a convenient way of getting the address of the publisher.)

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March 30, 2011 10:14PM

This all depends on what part of the US you live in. In the Southwest you shouldn't have a problem as sunlight is abundant. However, in places like Washington, you would need to buy a much more expensive style in order for it to work. They can be great, but it all depends on loaction and size of your house.