Will I Get Sued on YouTube? Licensing a Cover Song
**Guest post written by Chris "Seth" Jackson, a bass guitarist and composer and founder of HowToRunABand.com.
"My band is recording a cover song, Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot. Since it’s a cover song, I need to get the rights to use it. I found a really easy and affordable way to license the music! But, I also found a giant and annoying snag in regards to YouTube. A snag so big it makes me a bit resentful of the music industry’s antiquated ways.
First, I licensed the song through a service called LimeLight. I thought it would be a pain, but it only took me minutes to set up! Five minutes and $30 later, I can now legally sell this cover song.
However, this only covers me up to 25 downloads and 100 streams (like on Spotify or Last.fm). When I go over those limits, I need to go back to LimeLight and pay more in royalties. LimeLight allows you to purchase more than just the 25 downloads, but I wanted the simplest and smallest package. I might increase this if I see success with promoting my cover. Also, I think it’s only a one-time fee of $15, so my future renewals won’t cost as much.
Here’s the pain-in-the-ass snag: The license doesn’t cover YouTube. Since YouTube is video, you need a synchronization license.
That should be easy, right? Wrong. You need to contact the publisher. In this case, it’s Universal Music Group Publishing. I went to their site and was presented with a rather intimidating form asking me what my “music budget” was. My budget is zero!
I did a little more research, and it turns out that getting a synch license like this will cost a boat-load of money. They are used to licensing to major films and commercials; not a broke band wanting to do a cover tune. For a song like “Baby Got Back”, I’m sure they would want about $10,000 for the synch license.
It turns out this process is so broken, bands just ignore the synch license and upload their covers to YouTube anyways. Rarely does a publisher sue a band to take down the video, but it can happen. This can also get your YouTube account suspended. Though, this is still unlikely as publishers like the publicity for their music. However, you are still exposed to this risk.*
*Research from Sue Basko’s blog: Cover Songs on YouTube
So why the hell isn’t there a simple YouTube synch license? I want the original artist to get their money. I want to do things the legal and correct way. Why, in an industry railing against piracy and licensing violations, am I not given the option to do the right thing?
I’m going to create the video and upload it anyway. If others have done it, I can do it, too. And, since I’m paying royalties for my recorded version, I don’t think I’ll be targeted. (Fingers crossed.)
But, back to the normal, non-video license. I want to give away my cover song in exchange for people signing up to my email list. It turns out, even with a free download, you still have to pay the royalties. Once I go over 25 downloads, I have to go back and pay more. That’s a bit of a bummer, but it might be worth it for email leads.
To drive that point home, you still need to pay royalties even when you give the song away for free!
Finally, here’s the mandatory disclaimer. I’m not an entertainment lawyer. The above information is solely my personal experience. This is my first attempt at getting licenses for a cover song. If you enter into these gray, murky waters of rights and royalties, I’d highly recommend consulting with an entertainment attorney. It’s pricey, but it’s cheaper than getting sued!
I hope this helps! I see quite a few bands recording and selling cover songs without getting the rights to do so. It’s extremely easy and cheap to do the right thing on LimeLight. Wouldn’t you want your royalties if another band covered your tune?"
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