Cover songs can be really fun, especially when they’re done in such a different way than the original that you notice something new about the music. The groups Vitamin String Quartet and Apocalyptica are famous for these types of covers, redoing heavy metal and pop music in orchestra styles.
Lately, this Ipper has discovered a different type of cover music in a similar vain. A lone viola player covering currently popular hip hop tunes. Oddly enough, that’s a combination that delights this particular listener. However, this cover artist does things a little differently than the ones mentioned above. Instead of just adapting the tunes for the viola and playing them, he plays along with the actual hip hop songs. This is either more costly or more dangerous.
It is more costly if the artist has the permission and necessary licenses to release tracks where he plays along with the original songs. It is more dangerous if he does not have permission. This has to do with the different rights in a sound recording of a song as compared with the underlying composition itself.
The underlying composition, the only thing used by groups like Apocalyptica, has one copyright. That’s it, one. The copyright in the music itself. That copyright might be shared by multiple writers, but that doesn’t matter. To use the music, a person only needs to contact the song’s publisher and make an arrangement to use the work.
But to use the whole entire recording of a song requires a lot more work and a lot more money. The recording involves a lot more people with rights. It’s no longer just the publisher. It’s also the performing artist, the producer, the record label and possibly other publishers depending on who has contributed to the final version of the song that gets released. Basically, it’s a big, costly, mess. And that’s if the user gets permission!
Of course, if the user doesn’t get permission, he doesn’t have to deal with that whole mess. Instead, he is liable to all those people for infringing their different rights, copyrights, mechanical rights, performance rights. If the user did a cover of only the musical composition itself, without permission, then he is only liable to the publisher. Either way, the user is better off just covering the tune and not playing along with the original recording.
(And one humble opinion here is that his music would actually be much better if it were just him and the viola, without the background noise of the original works.)
goldenrail would like to thank Justen Barks for his assistance with this post. a favorite of the viola tunes.
Photo credit: Blinged out Viola cc-by-sa goldenrail used Pegs of a viola cc-by-sa by Lemondedo, available at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pegs_of_viola.JPG