Today we were sent a video production request through the contact form on our website. We were asked whether we could film a singer performing their version of a famous song with the intention of uploading the cover song to youtube.
Here is why we didn’t get involved (and why you might not want to either!)
Youtube Copyright Law for Cover Versions
There are two main types of copyright which protect a song from being duplicated. These cover both the performance and the writing of the song.
The latter is what stops you from selling your acoustic cover of Uptown Funk on iTunes. It covers the lyrics, chords and melody. To publish a version of someone else’s song requires a mechanical license.
However even with a mechanical license, if you uploaded your Uptown Funk acoustic cover video to Youtube, you would still be breaking copyright law. This is because a synch license is needed to put video to another person’s music, chords and lyrics.
Infringing Youtube Copyright
Youtube’s policy with copyright infringements is to take down first and ask questions later. In addition, they have a three-strike policy, whereby your account will be banned after the third copyright infringement. Finally, in breaking copyright law you can potentially be sued and taken to court by the copyright holder. So before you set your phone to record your beautiful strumming, you may wish to look up how to purchase these licenses.
In practice, however, there are countless cover videos on Youtube. I just did a quick search for “uptown funk acoustic cover” which returned 155,000 results. Youtube has even made a deal with some copyright holders so that they covers can legally be uploaded, generating ad revenue for the copyright holder. Unfortunately it has not been made clear which copyright holders have been contacted and what songs are legally accessible to Youtube‘s legion of budding cover artists.
For this issue, we have decided not to gamble with licensing laws in order to protect our business and our legitimacy as creatives whose living is made possible by the protection of those same copyright laws.