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Covering songs, copyrights, not many understand it and it is getting worse


I am requesting we don't even get into plans for the future on this thread, but just...it's going to get worse.

If you search TGP, and if you Google, no matter what, on "copyright cover songs" etc. you will quickly see over and over, that not many musicians even understand, and that is a lot of uncertainty surrounding all this.

Add to that, that many feel justified in ignoring all of that, I am certain there are a huge number of folks that would LOVE to comply, but that the whole system is messed up to a point that is confusing, and not reasonable.

When a bar band, playing cover, plays a bar....I have always had the understanding that the bar itself has the duty to pay a license fee (to Harry Fox? or ASCAP, or somewhere...) to cover the cost of a band playing cover songs. I don't know how many bars ACTUALLY do this, and not even certain about it, but I believe it is so.

Don't know if tribute bands have any special fees to the band they tribute..

I do know that Youtube is FILLED with live versions (as well as direct copies of songs, where they just have a pic of the album) of bands covering other folks songs. Little bands, solo guys, pedal demo guys, and BIG name bands too (like govt Mule)...

TONS of them. Yet Youtube has a policy that (often apparently if they start getting a lot of hits on the video) they will close accounts of anyone covering songs...yet they are all over Youtube.

I won't go into a long thing here about my own views, but will say, I BUY music, usually even still CD's, and I don't download free. I don't even use Spotify. I totally believe if I want to hear someones music, which means I like what they do, I'm not going to screw them and not pay for it.
That said, it also seems to me the current system is unfair, and even more, it hurts them, themselves!

Think about it, I can buy a song of a person for X dollars (one or two) but if I want to try and do my version of their song...well, you fill out lots of forms (first have to somehow find out WHO, which company owns the rights, which you have to pay, etc.) and maybe even pay thousands of dollars for our pathetic little attempt to play some song we really love.

Wouldn't it be smarter for them to make this easy as hell for us musicians? I mean, why aren't they working WITH Youtube, to collect say 3 bucks for someone to do a version of their song?

We who also write songs, know damned well, we ought to get compensated IF people want those songs, but I think it gets ridiculous that we can stop any and all that may even do parodies of our songs, or do them better (are they afriad of that) or terrible versions... many songwriters say themselves, the songs just "come" to them, and many sound like other songs, there aren't so many truly original ones...at the rate we're going, soon you won't even be able to write a song (surprised no corporation has set a supercomputer to write every song possibility and copyright it, so they'd own all combinations of musical notes, words, songs) without infringing.

I fear the laws coming down the pike will make this even worse, but as it has been for the last 20 years, it's VERY hard for someone that wants to be fair, compensate (but 2500 dollars to be able to post my own version of "Brown Sugar" or whatever...isn't that a little nuts?) the artist, to afford or even find out how to do it. I know someone will say "it isn't 2500, it is only 35" but that is not so as far as I can tell. When publishing on the net, it is seen as broadcasting and a whole other pay scale, depending on expected listens...etc. comes into play.

This system is messed up.


Senior Member
Dude, this is capitalism. Which is short for "get all the money you can any way you can by doing as little as you can".
Which means that those who make money from music are not about to make it easy on others, the idea is to pull down the low hanging bananas.

To my knowledge most clubs pay. It is an expense write off for them.
As far as the tube thing goes, no doubt the tube policy is just an ass covering move.
I suspect it is in place just in case the music industry decides to start busting kids and fining them big bucks again, to keep the dogs off tube.
Chances are the music industry is going where the money is and finding the easy dollars to go after rather than trying to hunt down tube bands who they likely know don't have money.
When it comes to legal issues involving civil desputes, as I have been told by a lawyer, lawyers go where the money is.
So I suspect the publishing companies and BMI/ASCAP are , simply put, going after the big fish and ignoring the bait.

I suspect and predict that in the future independant artists will be inundated with legal hassles because every artist who refuses to become protected by a money collecting agency or publishing company will have their music gone over with a fine tooth comb and any even remotely similarities of their songs to protected songs will inspire copyright infringement suits, in order to keep independant artists from completely defecting from the music industry and becoming a threat to the income of the monolith.

The system works just fine for those it was designed to enrich.
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Silver Supporting Member
People tend to think "intellectual property" is a ******** concept until they come up with a valuable idea.


if clubs don't pay they will get in trouble. I know little hippie festivals that have gotten in trouble and want the bands to play only original music because they don't want to deal with paying for the song performance fees.

Also you can get off your high horse OP. People have been playing their version of other people's songs for centuries.


Senior Member
Clubs dont last very long without a license. Its easy for ASCAP/BMI to found out if new bars/restaurants open up, then they send someone to see if they are playing music.


Clouds yell at me
Gold Supporting Member
Also you can get off your high horse OP. People have been playing their version of other people's songs for centuries.
Not sure where this is from. The OP isn't complaining about people doing other people's songs, just the opposite really. He's talking about the lack of clear and reasonable rules and compensation systems for doing so. At least that's how I read it.


if clubs don't pay they will get in trouble. I know little hippie festivals that have gotten in trouble and want the bands to play only original music because they don't want to deal with paying for the song performance fees.

Also you can get off your high horse OP. People have been playing their version of other people's songs for centuries.

Clubs all pay. Then there is a complex model to figure out who actually gets the money. Bars, clubs, venues, sports complexs all pay a flat fee based on size and what happens there.

But I wanted to post about the above quote... If a hippy festival only wants original music thats fine, but what happens when they book a band who is under bmi/ascap? Same thing, but on a smaller scale right?


I agree that artist should get more comoensation for their work. Think of how many young singers have been discovered singing a cover song on Youtube. The original artist should be compensated
It is really not that complicated.

When you write a song and put into any medium--from pencil to paper all the way to major label release--you own the copyright. Your ownership of it is granted by the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8), as well as Title 17 of U.S. copyright law.

If you sell that song, people can use it for their private enjoyment, or to the enjoyment of themselves and their two thousand closest friends, in their home. What they can't do is drive profits in their business by using your song to in their coffee shop, bar, nightclub, adult emporium, feminist bookstore, etc. Whether it is performed by a band of little people dressed up like KISS for a capacity crowd of 75 people who have paid a cover and are drinking like fish at the bar, or played softly by the piano player to create the kind of atmosphere that really sells some scampi, it is then A PUBLIC PERFORMANCE.

Businesses can't publicly perform your song without your express permission. That is the law. So businesses can do one of two things to legally use music. They can track down the copyright holders for each and every song they play during the wet t-shirt contest or whatever and get permission to use the song, which is very difficult, or they can purchase a blanket license from a performing rights organization (PRO), and often all three.

BMI and ASCAP and SESAC are PROs. SESAC is pretty tiny, but BMI and ASCAP are not for profit organizations that represent about half a million songwriters each. BMI is free to join and has an open-door policy that accepts everyone. They provide blanket licenses to businesses that use music that allow the business to lawfully and legally play the music of all the songwriters they represent (that is why it is called a blanket license). The PROs then distribute the licensing fees they collect as royalties to the songwriters they represent.

The average cost of a license is between $1 to $3 per day. (And if a business is not pulling in at least a buck or three by using music, they may want to consider not using music at all.)

Cover bands, DJs, etc. are not required to have a license for public performance of other people's songs. That is the responsibility of the businesses that hire the bands and DJs, etc. Though some businesses try to pass it on to the bands they hire (though oddly, they don't then offer to share a cut of the bar's take that night with the band). They also sometimes tell the bands, especially ones with regular gigs there, that they have to discontinue music because of the BMI or ASCAP license fees, neglecting to mention that the fee is probably two or three bucks a night.

Is it a perfect system? No. But the license fees for businesses are a hell of a lot less than the money they make from having music, and there are thousands and thousands of writers and musicians who depend on the quarterly royalties they receive from a PRO to be able to keep being writers and musicians.


Senior Member
I am a songwriter and hold a lot of copyrights.
I also realize the stupidity and self damage done by obsessive greed.

I want paid when someone uses my material and capitalizes on it. That is only honest and fair.
But to simply enforce rules and regulations purely out of greed because you can has done the music industry more harm than good.
For example, bar bands are in many ways a promotional tool for songs. Imagine how often some folks heard a song for the first time in a bar and became fans of the song or the group that wrote and recorded the song.

As my personal rebellion to the absurd backlash by the music industry of busting kids for downloading songs and fining them mega bucks, I quit buying new music. I borrow it from the library or buy it at flea markets and yard sales used.
I download nothing.
It is one thing to want fair compensation, it is another to be so obsessively greedy as to resort to absurd extremes to squeeze money out of people.
If I walk into a club that I know hasn't paid the BMI/ASCAP fee and a band was playing one of my songs, and I knew it was just a bunch of guys struggling to make gas and beer money and hopefully make some big bucks one day, I'll be go to hell if I would go after them for it. I couldn't consciously do it.
And I wouldn't want to be known as the guy that did that.
At one time it was considered a smart business move for any corporate entity to maintain a positive public profile. That mindset no longer exists.


It's not illegal to cover songs, and record them on CD's, Mp3s, whatever. It's illegal to try to SELL the tunes.

I can go and record any tune I like and give the record away for free, and nobody can do a damn thing about it. It's when you try to sell it that things get ugly.
If I walk into a club that I know hasn't paid the BMI/ASCAP fee and a band was playing one of my songs, and I knew it was just a bunch of guys struggling to make gas and beer money and hopefully make some big bucks one day, I'll be go to hell if I would go after them for it. I couldn't consciously do it
Nobody is going after cover bands. It is the businesses responsibility to provide the license, because all the people that have come to hear that cover band are all buying alcohol and food and paying covers and making money for that business. The bar owner should make money, and the door guy and the bartender and the sound guy and the band and waitresses and the guy who sweeps up at the end of the night should all make money, but the guy who wrote--and therefor, per the Constitution, OWNS the songs that are allowing all those people to make money is not allowed to get paid? That makes no sense.

And if somebody walked into that bar and robbed it, do you think the owner would think, ahhh, don't punish that guy, he's just a struggling guy who wants to hit it big with his own bar some day?

And promotion argument also makes no sense--like every person who hears "Mustang Sally" during a cover band's set runs out and purchases a copy of it. I have heard a lot of people use arguments like this, but I have never once heard someone who actually supports himself as a songwriter use it.

I don't support myself as a songwriter, but I would never try to argue them out of being compensated for what is rightfully and legally theirs. As if being a professional songwriter wasn't hard enough....
What do you mean? It is reality--it is Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution:

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

And it is covered under Title 17 of U.S. Copyright law.

If you are of the opinion that somehow this is not fair or not carried out effectively and equitably, that is one thing. But it is absolutely the law.

the fat one

Senior Member
that FBI warning doesn't reflect reality either, remember the point you were arguing about?

anyway. When you tell everybody it's not that complicated, then write 8 paragraphs, it IS complicated, isn't it.

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