Playing cover versions is a rite of passage for any musician. Nearly all of us have paid tribute to our favourite artists by performing or recording one. But are you allowed to release that recording? It’s a common question, and the answer is often “yes” – but there are exceptions. Depending on the nature of the cover version and the territory you’re planning to release it in, there are some rules you need to follow.
Do I need permission to release it?
That depends on whether your cover is classed as a ‘faithful reproduction’. That means it needs to retain the same melody, lyrics, and structure as the original. If it does, you don’t need permission from the original rightsholders (or publishers).
If, however, your version alters any element of the melody, lyrics or structure, it might be classed as a new work of copyright or a derivative work, in which case you will need permission from the original rightsholder of the song (or composition, but we’ll refer to it as “song” here).
If you do need to get permission, you generally need to make contact with the rightsholder directly. Usually, Google will help you find out who the Publisher or rightsholder is for a particular song.
If my cover is a faithful reproduction, do I need to bear anything else in mind before I release it?
Yes. When recordings are streamed or sold online, a portion of the revenue needs to be paid to the songwriter(s) and their publisher(s) (if applicable).
If you’re planning on releasing your cover on streaming services only (i.e. not download stores like iTunes or Amazon MP3), then those services should handle any publishing royalty payments, so you don’t have to calculate or pay these yourself.
If, however, you want to release your cover version on iTunes, Amazon MP3 or any other service with an a-la-carte download element, there are some territories of the world where it’s your responsibility to pay those royalties.
The most significant of those territories is the USA. Fortunately, the payments you need to make if you choose to release your cover there are dealt with by an easily-bought license – so you’re effectively pre-paying the royalties upfront for a set number of downloads. We’d recommend approaching Affordable Song Licensing to buy this license.
The Affordable Song Licensing folks can cover you for a minimum of 25 downloads, but make sure you double check the number you select, as it’s your responsibility to get another license before that number of downloads is exceeded. (EmuBands, of course, makes it super easy to check how many you’ve sold thus far.)
Canada & Japan
These two territories aren’t quite so simple, but it depends on the song you’re covering. If the national collection societies have the mandate to collect publishing royalties for that particular song, you can relax: they’ll handle payments on your behalf. It’s also very likely that they do have that mandate, but you need to check to see if the song is listed in their database (it’ll help to know the full name of the composer – you’ll also need this information to register your recording of the song with EmuBands anyway.)
NB: If you can’t read Japanese, you may have to use the translation tools on your web browser – although JASRAC has a helpful PDF which should help you navigate the site: https://www.jasrac.or.jp/ejhp/pdf/JWID.pdf
In the unlikely event that the song you’re covering is NOT listed in one of these collection societies’ databases, then you might wish to contact the rightsholder of the composition directly (usually via their publisher) to obtain a license from them. If you can’t be bothered with that, EmuBands makes it easy to exclude these territories from the list of countries you want us to distribute your release to.
When adding your release to our system, you can edit the list of cleared territories for your release within the ‘Availability & Pricing’ section, under the banner which reads ‘In Which Countries Do You Want Your Release Available?’.
India & Pakistan
There’s currently no way to pre-purchase a license for publishing royalties in India or Pakistan, regardless of the song you’re covering. If there are any downloads of your cover version from download stores in these countries, you’ll need to contact the rightsholder of the composition directly (usually via their publisher) to obtain a license. But remember: if you can’t be bothered with that, again, you can exclude India and Pakistan from your EmuBands release.
In short: Do I need permission to release a cover version?
Only if you’ve changed the melody, lyrics or structure.
Am I responsible for making sure the publishing royalties reach the rightsholder of the composition?
If the song is only released on streaming services: NO.
If it’s released in download stores, then YES, but only in a few territories:
USA: Always, but licenses are available for pre-purchase
India: Always, and you need to contact the publisher directly
Pakistan: Always, and need to contact the publisher directly
Canada: Sometimes, depending on the song
Japan: Sometimes, depending on the song
Why do I need to pay any money at all?
Songwriters need to be paid whenever their songs are streamed or downloaded, and due to a quirk in the way this works for downloads in a few countries, this responsibility falls to you. For the rest of the World, it’s no problem!
What if I don’t want to deal with any of this?
You can choose to release your cover version on streaming services only, or exclude the US, India, Pakistan, Canada & Japan from your EmuBands release.
How Do I Add a Release to My Account?
What Countries Will My Release Be Available in?
What Sort of Information Can I See in the Royalty Reports?
Why Do I Need to Submit Full Composer Names?
Can I Switch To EmuBands from Another Distributor?