By now you’ve heard that multi-channel network Fullscreen is being sued by the National Music Publishers Association for copyright infringement. And by now you’ve asked yourself: “Holy shit, am I going to get sued also?” The answer, if you’re not a multi-million dollar network or top 100 creator, is probably “no.” But, that doesn’t mean you can go around throwing unlicensed music in your uploads willy-nilly.
Certain sects of Hollywood and the music industry are notorious for being ruthlessly harsh on any type of copyright violation. Like most things in life, executives start paying attention when large sums of money are being made. That means that if your cover song ever blows up on YouTube, Johnny Record Exec could send a team of lawyers to your front door.
Everyone wants to avoid a lawsuit — unless it’s the kind where the sentence is receiving a lifetime supply of pizza — so we’re here to help you steer clear of any sticky legal situations.
How YouTube Handles Copyright Violations
With millions of hours of video uploaded daily, YouTube doesn’t necessarily have the time to sort through each and every takedown notice. With this, they have been forced to adopt a shoot first, ask questions later approach. According to YouTube: “When we receive a complete takedown notice, we remove the content as the law requires.” In other words, it’s not hard to have your content removed on YouTube as long as it roughly falls into the often hazy parameters of copyright law.
YouTube does not deal with copyright ownership issues either. Instead, the video site forwards the complaints to both parties involved and quietly steps away.
So Does My Cover Song Violate Copyright Law?
Yes it does. Well, not really, but sort of … maybe? Cover songs on YouTube are a heated topic among almost every aspect of the music and online video industry. While Fullscreen is being knocked for making money on cover songs the NMPA claims they have no rights to, millions of cover songs still are up and running ads on YouTube as I write this.
YouTube writes in their FAQ section: “Recording a cover version of your favorite song does not necessarily give you the rights to upload that recording to YouTube. You may need permission from the owner of the underlying music in order to upload the recording legally.”
Back in 2012, YouTube made deals with various U.S. music publishers that allowed creators to keep up their covers while publishers took upwards of 50 percent of the revenue generated from them. Unfortunately, we’re still not sure which publishers officially signed on. This means that even though YouTube has made it legal to upload a great deal of cover songs, we have no clue what those cover songs actually are.
So I’m Going To Get Sued?
No, probably not. Again, these types of disputes only go to court in extreme cases like the aforementioned Fullscreen lawsuit. As an individual, the worst case scenario is having your video pulled down or muted by YouTube, who is acting in response to a copyright notice they may have received.
Of course, the bigger issue is YouTube’s “three strikes” policy. YouTube writes: “If you receive three strikes, your YouTube account will be terminated. At time of termination, all your other videos will be removed and you will be permanently blocked from creating new accounts or accessing YouTube’s community features in the future.”
Okay, What Do I Do Now?
Research, research, research. If you want to avoid getting permanently banned from YouTube, look into what songs are covered in YouTube’s 2012 agreement with music rights representatives the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) and the Harry Fox Agency (HFA). Also, if you are part of a network, ask their legal team to provide you with information about any licensing deals they may have made with publishers.
Baring any of those options, you could always go old school with it and reach out to whoever owns the rights to a song you want to cover and simply ask them for a license.
To Learn More About Copyright Law: