IP Followup: Music and YouTube

One topic my post from yesterday did not specifically address was music. Coincidentally, Andy Baio recently posted a thorough investigation of cover songs on YouTube that speaks to many of the issues on both sides of the intellectual property debate.

We all break laws. Every day, millions of people jaywalk, download music, and drive above the speed limit. Some laws are obscure, others are inconvenient, and others are just fun to break.

There are millions of cover songs on YouTube, with around 12,000 new covers uploaded in the last 24 hours…

Until recently, all but a sliver were illegal, considered infringement under current copyright law. Nearly all were non-commercial, created out of love by fans of the source material, with no negative impact on the market value of the original.

This is creativity criminalized, quite possibly the most popular creative act that’s against the law.

I don’t think it’s an act of civil disobedience; nobody’s making a statement. Most people don’t know that cover songs need a synchronization license, and even if they did, trying to get one is a confusing and expensive proposition…

This week, I set out to answer a seemingly simple question: when are YouTube cover songs legal, and how can we do this better?

If this subject interests you at all, the post is well worth your time.


This is where I must admit I have used both legal and illegal music in YouTube videos, while playing gigs and even on one of the records I’ve released. I’ve had videos blocked and un-blocked by YouTube, in fact I have two currently blocked “in some countries.” Here’s one with two different songs, only one of which seems to have been identified by YouTube (and IIRC, caused it to be removed for a while).

Here’s one that uses a cover song as its soundtrack (double jeopardy!?) that hasn’t been identified by YouTube. This one is a questionable use of video (found on archive.org IIRC) mashed up with someone else’s music, and was taken down by YouTube until the publisher reached some kind of agreement with them, then it was magically legal.

Finally, there is this video of me performing a cover song. This is the very case addressed in Andy’s piece. It gets even more interesting, though, as the original venue I performed this piece in was responsible for the legality of my original live performance, and I have my doubts as to their fulfillment of that responsibility. Further, this is the song that I did not obtain a license for in the first place! I tried, desperately, going so far as to contact the band’s management, but was unable to secure a license through the channels offered me (mentioned in a post I linked to yesterday). (The two songs not performed by their respective copyright holders on the Memorial record, on the other hand, were relatively easy to obtain rights for, in fact licenses for digital downloads had been established by the rights administrator.)