Clearing Cover Songs for Sale or Distribution (Including Free Plays or DL)
April 29, 2011 | 12:23 pm
How long will iCompostions.com stay under the radar of Mechanical Licenses and Streaming Licenses for cover songs?
I love to write and record original songs and covers. My passion for music makes me want to sing, play and record everything. Recently, I've been reading more about copyright law and suggest, if we're going to post covers on iComp, we should be prepared to pay the original songwriter or copyright holder/publishing house for every streamed play and download, even if we are giving the cover version away for free. The burden of responsibility is probably not on iComp, but on the artist who recorded and posted a cover. Once you've exceeded 10 or 20 plays or free downloads...it's arguable you've exceeded the definition of "Fair Use".
Fortunately, it's very easy to do this lawfully, and iComp is generally under the radar because publishers are focusing on big sites like Amazon, iTunes, Napster and the larger pay-for-play/music sharing sites. Basically to be legit, for a posted cover song, one would need to pay $.01 per play Streaming License and $.091 per download Digital Distribution License (plus an up front one-time fee for initiating the Mechanical License.
We can use a site like Limelight
to easily comply with copyright law. It's an expense, so I suggest approaching posting covers online as short-term advertising when you receive no income in return and be prepared to pony-up. The posting artist (not the site) is required to track downloads and plays and pay the appropriate royalties. On iComp--hide the "download" button on covers, unless you want to potentially pay a dime for every download...or, you can be magnanimously generous and tally a dime in the bucket for each one of your friends who DL's the cover
If you get called to the carpet for 500 plays, you can get right with the holder of the copyright for a few bucks. Proper etiquette *might* include paying up front an estimate of plays and downloads, but one can edit the scope of the license easily if it's exceeded by demand.
This being said, it's possible to make money from covering songs. It can also get you noticed in the sea of content on iTunes or other stores. Someone searching for a marquee-named tune might see your version and download it. I've purchased *many* covers on a whim from bands I've never heard of. As long as you acquire the Mechanical License and pay the proper fees, you are legitimately entitled to sell cover songs on sites like iTunes or Amazon.
For example, if I want to license my cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" it may cost me $60 to get 500 licenses to digitally distribute my sound recording (I own the sound recording copyright (P) ). The songwriter (or holder) owns the (C) copyright of the original work and is technically entitled to a Mechanical License royalty for EVERY play and download, regardless if I give my version away for free. If you play or distribute a cover song to a group of more than 10 friends or family, it can violate "Fair Use" (but that's not a hard set limit).
Let's talk profits, though. If you sell a cover on iTunes, for example, the profit will depend on the volume of sales, and your expenses, obviously. You pay an up front fee to upload to iTunes via a site like Tunecore
. You'd pay an upfront licensing fee to Limelight
, but if you sold a hundred copies you'd be in the black, profit-wise, and you can write off the upload/licensing fees on your taxes as expenses. $.70 is in your pocket for every sale on U.S. iTunes...$.94 for Australia...$.96 in Europe (iTunes charges more outside the U.S. for downloads). Consider it! And, track all your expenses and income.
Also, make sure you embed the artwork and the metadata in your MP3 file as well, so searches can find your song. Also, here's another great site loaded with opportunites to pitch your music to industry professionals for publishing, film, advertising, etc. Free to sign up and they will PAY YOU to listen to songs at Musicxray
. Cool beans.