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Re-Imagined Cover Songs

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 7:45 am
by wendylanders
Hi Everybody! :)

I've had this question for a while now, and this listing, TAXI #Y190403CS, is a good excuse to ask it!

How close does a cover song actually have to be--in practice-- to the original work before you need permission from the copyright holders to make a derivative work?

Keeping in mind that I am not a lawyer, and most likely neither is anyone reading this. I don't think a lawyer is going to be able to address this question, except to point out current lawsuits. That would be, like, what I'm trying to avoid!

My question really comes down to a point of practice, what kind of changes will typically get someone sued?

For example, I want to make a cover of Lifestream by Ricky Nelson. The Sony Corporation, however, is not getting back to me in a timely fashion. Now, for the changes I *want* to make--a trip-hop version--personally, if I owned the copyright, I'd want to sign off on them before someone distributed a radically new arrangement. So if we use the "do undo others as you would have them do unto you" standard, I should hold off on making that cover.

However, if I make smaller changes: the instruments; switch from male to female vocals; change keys; a slight (10 bpm) change in tempo; are these changes enough to require getting permission from the copyright holder for making a derivative work?

Seriously, I'm having a hard time getting into contact with original copyright holders! For some odd reason, they don't sit around all day waiting for me to ask permission to make a derivative work! :)

There is a company out there that claims that for $100 they can clear all rights to any song. Personally, I don't see how they could, so I'm suspicious.

Those of you who have had other musicians cover your work--and I know you're out there somewhere--can let me know where bands usually draw the line before they get mad and sue someone.

Now, Ricky Nelson is dead, but I'd also like to cover living artists, like U2. It may actually be easier to get in contact with Ricky Nelson's estate than to find anyone who can sign-off on an "updated" U2 cover on one of their lesser known songs: Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World.

You get the idea!

Thanks for your help!


Wendy Landers

Re: Re-Imagined Cover Songs

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 5:25 pm
by Susanstunes
Hey Wendy,

I don't know much about this except I remember a thread on this forum last time this type of listing came up and someone had a similar concern. I think the consensus was that we don't have to worry about that because the publisher will take the burden since they are asking for the music.
I am curious to hear from other folks here who have the authority I don't.
I'm considering doing one too!


Re: Re-Imagined Cover Songs

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 6:15 pm
by wendylanders
Hi Susan,

I'll look for the previous thread, thanks! :)

I can see a rationalization for that, since the publisher will ultimately own the copyright on whatever musicians submit, but it still sounds like passing the buck. I've never had any luck with passing the buck.

But if a submission is not forwarded, it's a moot point, except for the re-imagined covers I wanted to put on my website.


Wendy Landers

Re: Re-Imagined Cover Songs

Posted: Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:16 am
by Tunesmith
If you want to perform covers on your CD, website, etc, I think you just need to contact the Harry Fox Agency.


Re: Re-Imagined Cover Songs

Posted: Sun Mar 31, 2019 5:31 am
by Kolstad
Not sure if I can help, but I wonder if we are expected to clear the rights before we submit, or if the library will do this. The listing states that we need to own the master, which is a given of course. But I get the idea that we dont need to clear the publishing rights beforehand. Can anyone confirm that?

Usually it is important with covers that you dont change anything in the lyric and the main melody, as that is whats copyrighted. But to what extent is is viable to omit something from the lyric? I consider covering The Killer’s Mr Brightside, and might omit the parts about confession at the beginning and the end. Would that be allright, as long as I dont change any lyrics and melody parts?