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Is it legal to post a covered song on Myspace? Answered

We are Names Fade, an unsigned band, and we are just starting out. We've covered several songs, and those are some of our biggest hits. We are wondering if it is legal to post this song on our myspace music page.


I Am Not A Lawyer, but I've had reason to look into some of this and here's my best knowledge of the current state of the universe. Before playing you-bet-your-wallet, you may want to get expert advice. But since you asked...

The simple answer is "not without the copyright holder's explicit permission."

While most songs are available through mechanical license, which will cover selling individual recordings of a cover (by paying a fee per copy sold), and while there are conventions for how this is handled in radio broadcast (based on the station's presumed audience), there is as yet no equivalent standardized mechanism for publishing music on the Internet. As a result, you must negotiate every instance individually.

If the original artist still holds the rights, they're likely to be reasonable about it... but they aren't obliged to be. If a music publisher holds the rights, that's going to be much harder.

You may, or may not, be able to get away with posting a short sample clip from your cover recording. There isn't any explicit rule for that, but it seems to be less likely to provoke lawyers.

Just be glad you're doing straight covers rather than altering the songs. Altered versions *always* require explicit negotiation of both performance/broadcast and recording rights. There are specific exceptions for parody, but to qualify the new song must make a meaningful comment upon the original. And that's a risky route to go, as well as sometimes being considered disrespectful. Weird Al's work *might* qualify under the parody clause, but he's careful about always negotiating the rights anyway.

If you have any _original_ songs, where someone in your own group holds the rights, then of course they can give you permission. For everyone's protection, make sure that's in writing.

BTW, thanks for asking before posting! All too many folks have trouble understanding the concepts of copyright and intellectual property.

I see a lot of people on youtube and myspace posting themselves doing a song by some big band, are those people breaking the law too?

While I think its best to play it safe, I also think its much looser than you would think with regard to strictness - many things get posted, and are only taken down if a complaint is made.

If you are selling it, they will come after you because they want their piece of the pie.

Lastly, as noted above about parody - weird al specifically DOESN'T need permission to do any of his songs, and his record company would record and sell it - but they aren't willing to butt heads with other recording industry parties.  They are competing with one another but they have a lot of cooperation inter-corporation.  Specifically in weird al's case, he's had to withdraw songs after they are completed and ready to stamp disks because the original artists pulled the plug.  He had no legal responsibility to do it, but withdrew out of professional courtesy.  Turf wars are ugly.

what about giving credit? for instance, we did a cover for Shock by Fear Factory, can we post it like:

Shock (Fear Factory Cover)


Giving credit doesn't constitute permission. It may make the band less likely to be angry with you but is certainly no guarantee, and definitely doesn't cut it with the publisher.

Sorry. I wish I had better news for you. But the law, and the common practices, in this area are still being worked out and there just isn't a simple, automatic, affordable answer that's definitely safe.

If/when your band hits it big, you may find yourself feeling otherwise after someone does something with your masterpiece without permission. Or you may not.

Copyright cuts both ways.

There are good reasons for giving creative people a limited-time exclusive right to profit from their work (if they want to exercise that right). On the other hand, creativity is also facilitated by letting folks borrow from each other, which is why the time limit exists. Unfortunately that time has been extended too far, and publishers have gotten much too focused on squeezing every penny out of their properties. I have hopes that this will get straightened out, since it's reaching the point where more and more people recognize the excesses... but I'm not holding my breath.

Reminder: I Am Not A Lawyer, just a reasonably well-informed amateur. If you want to know more about this set of topics, the Library of Congress has a good discussion of basic copyright on their website, the Harry Fox Agency's site has a good description of mechanical license, and ... darn, I can't remember where I found the good description of the differences between copyright on the music/lyrics and copyright on the performance, or of how licensing is handled at the venue level, but it's on the web somewhere.

One final thought: Remember that you can't copyright a set of chord changes. Jazz musicians used to go a long way on that, playing things that sounded like but weren't the copyrighted tune since they officially had a different melody line. Of course they weren't spending a lot of time playing the melody anyway, so that wasn't too hard for them.

Yes. There are a lot of people out there posting things that could get them in trouble, one way or another; this is one such example.

You asked about legality; I gave you my understanding of the law.

As far as what you can actually get away with... it's hard to predict when the RIAA or one of the major publishers will suddenly want to make an example of someone. The odds favor you getting away with it and at most getting a takedown notice, as Frollard says... but how comfortable are you with that gamble? I played it safe back when I was running a website for a performing group; you have to decide whether you want to risk it yourself.