Musicians are constantly learning from each other and are often
influenced by the musical styles and compositions of other artists.
Playing cover songs is a popular way for artists to arrange their
own version of a song by putting a unique spin on it and showcasing
their creativity and originality. Uploading these cover songs
to YouTube provides artists with a platform from which they can
build their profiles and promote their musical careers, potentially
gaining the support of fans. It is not unusual to hear that the
newest musical superstar used YouTube as a stepping stone to a
record deal. The success, popularity and celebrity of Justin
Bieber, for example, can be traced back to a YouTube video of a
However, by covering a song written by another artist, musicians
may unknowingly contravene copyright laws. The videos of Justin
Bieber and other "YouTube Sensations" may have amounted
to copyright infringement. Artists are not always aware of
the legal requirements associated with posting cover songs.
A common misconception is that typing "fair use" into
the video's description protects the uploader from copyright
infringement. This is untrue. In order for an artist to legally
post a video of their cover song, a synchronization
("synch") license is required. It is necessary to contact
the music publisher or the copyright holder directly and to pay the
required fee in order to obtain a synch license; however, a synch
license will not necessarily be granted simply because someone is
willing to pay the required fee. The publisher or copyright
holder can decide, at their own discretion, if they are willing to
give a synch license.
Although a synch license is required prior to a musician legally
uploading their cover song to YouTube, most musicians do not bother
to obtain one. The majority of cover songs uploaded to YouTube are
technically illegal and not many people are aware of, or are overly
concerned by, the nuances of the law. If a cover song is uploaded
that infringes on copyright, the user could be sued, the video
could be taken down at the request of the copyright holder or the
user's account could be deleted.
That being said, though many cover songs on YouTube technically
infringe upon copyright laws, music publishers do not always bother
taking legal action or ordering that the song be removed. Depending
on the popularity of the cover song, publishers and rights holders
are afforded free publicity by the number of people watching the
cover song. Sometimes those who are drawn to the cover song will
search for and download the original version. Further, many videos
are not removed from YouTube because the website has recently
negotiated blanket licenses with several music publishers.
However, YouTube has not provided a way for users to check whether
or not their cover song will infringe the law, or whether or not
their song is covered by these blanket licenses.
Uploading a cover song to YouTube is a risk that many people are
willing to take. That being said, it is wise to err on the side of
caution before uploading cover songs to YouTube or else you may
find you have a copyright infringement problem.
A recent Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench decision allowed a court-appointed receiver to sell and transfer intellectual property rights free and clear of encumbrances, finding that a license to use improvements of an invention was a contractual interest and not a property interest.
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