Mechanical Licenses for Song “Covers”

November 3, 2006 · Print This Article

When a band or musician records and releases a “cover” of someone else’s published song, that band/musician generally falls under the the “Compulsory License” provisions in Section 115 of the Copyright Act. This is often referred to as a mechanical license. The mechanical license requires that the band/musician must pay the copyright owner of the song for each copy of the song that is distributed (e.g. CDs, digital downloads). The current rate is 9.1 cents per song, for each song under 5 minutes long.

Here are the steps for acquiring a mechanical license:

1) Decide whether the song you are covering requires a mechanical license. For example, some songs are no longer covered by copyright (i.e. they are in the “public domain”). A copyright attorney can help you determine whether your “cover” requires a mechanical license.

2) Determine who owns the rights to the song you are covering. The Harry Fox Agency is often a good place to start when attempting to locate the copyright owner of a song. You might also find contact information for the copyright owner on the liner notes of the CD containing the song you intend to “cover.”

3) Give notice to the copyright owner of your intention to “cover” his/her song. The notice requirements are also found in Section 115(b). You must give notice within 30 days after making your CD, and before you distribute it. [information here: ]You can also attempt to negotiate a rate that is lower than the 9.1 cents per song rate.

4) Pay for the copies that you make and distribute.

Notice and Disclaimer: This posting is not legal advice and not intended as legal advice. It is intended only to provide non-specific legal information. This post does not cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. The specific facts that apply to you may make the outcome different than you anticipate. This posting is based on United States law. You should consult with an attorney familiar with the laws of your country. This posting does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Darin Leong. This posting is not a solicitation.


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