Crowdsourced Cover Collections: A Copyright Conundrum

A friend recently introduced me to a website called Cover Me, in which contributors write about cover versions of songs.  There are artist-cover anthologies, lists of “Five Good Covers” of oft-covered songs, and entire albums’ worth of cover versions.  Accompanying text describes the songs, the original artists, and the various cover versions.  Sometimes the “art” is in finding cover versions of obscure songs; other times it’s in selecting among many cover versions of better-known songs and putting together an interesting collection.

Entire albums featured on this site include Led Zeppelin III, XTC’s Skylarking, and several Ramones albums.  The site is run by Ray Padgett, a Brooklynite whose day job is at a small PR/social media firm.

Now here’s the conundrum.  All of the song titles link to audio of the cover versions. Some are simply links to files on SoundCloud, YouTube, or other hosting sites, while others are links to iTunes or Amazon purchase pages.  But many others are downloadable MP3s hosted on the site, with embedded MP3 players for streaming the music.  Most of these tracks are available on YouTube; some are available on Spotify.

My friend told me that the site will take the MP3 files down when requested, although it does not have a written copyright policy.  The site does not carry ads and has no apparent source of revenue; the contributors are volunteers.

What do you think?  Fair use or not?

 

 

3 comments

  1. My name’s Patrick Robbins, and I’m the features editor for Cover Me.

    My take is that we fall under fair use; as a site I found once said, “In general, it may be considered fair use if you are reproducing a work for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.” I figure we fall under several of those – on a good day, all six – and as such we can use pix ‘n’ clips with impunity, and I’ll say as much in a court of law if I have to. But, again, I’d much rather not fall afoul of an artist, so I pull whatever I’m asked to – and in the five years I’ve been writing for Cover Me, I haven’t been asked yet.

  2. As a fellow coverblogger: I’ve actually had a few artists request streaming-only because they are concerned that downloads would tip them into more costs for licensing, which are generally split by amount. My presumption is that since other artists and PR agencies generally send me this stuff, they are assuming we’ll post it.

  3. Interesting. FYI, I’m not sure I buy that “since other artists and PR agencies generally send me this stuff, they are assuming we’ll post it.” If you wanted to be safest, I would not make that assumption unless it’s stated in the materials accompanying the music that they want you to make it available for free download. If you put it up on your site as a download, then normally no one gets or is paid anything, so I’m not sure what you mean by “more costs for licensing.”

    If an artist, label, or PR rep sends you music for promotional purposes, there are many things you could possibly do with it. The biggest and most traditional example is radio: you work at a station and they want you to play it (which results in a royalty payment to at least the songwriter and possibly the recording artist). Nowadays they might want you to, say, link to a YouTube clip of the song, or to a play on Spotify, or to a purchase on iTunes or Amazon — all of which pay the artist and songwriter something. I’m not sure that they “want” you to put it up for free unless they tell you that specifically.

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