Posted by Mr. Q at 6:00 AM Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Dear Rich: I'm in a band, that's just starting. We write songs, which we intend to release soon. We were wondering, though, if it would be alright to make some videos of us singing other artist's songs first, and post them online (not to be sold, though), using them as a sort of advertisement. I've tried researching that, and it seems that technically it's illegal, but we don't understand why so many people have done that very thing, and later been rewarded with recording contracts, (i.e. Justin Bieber, Cody Simpson, Christina Grimmie and Greyson Chance). If it's illegal, why does it seem to work for so many people? First, we're happy you formed a band. It's a great way to make friends (and enemies) and it teaches young people a lot about important stuff like personal hygiene. We're not familiar with most of the artists you mentioned but that's probably why they're successful. In any case, you're correct that it is a violation of copyright law to make a cover-song video without permission. People do it and "get away with it" because websites such as YouTube have worked out arrangements with many song owners. Instead of requiring that the video be taken down, the song owners allow the video to stay up as long as advertisements are displayed and/or run in conjunction with the video. The song owner keeps the money from the ad revenue. In addition, you may find it difficult to embed your cover video outside of YouTube, or as you'll see if you click our cover song above, you'll get a message forcing you to watch the video on YouTube thereby enabling the ads (we love what happens at :54 seconds). We wrote about this phenomenon (sometimes triggered by a system called Content ID) in a previous blog entry. You can also learn more about cover songs and videos by reading this article at CDBaby.