Cover Songs on YouTube Copyright Question

Hello, dear community,
today i have a legal question.
Very few of us will compose our own songs, but cover them.
To show this, the beginning is often “just like that” for others to play on YouTube or in the open air. No money should be made with it!
I’ve been researching this for a few days.
Here in Germany there is initially the so-called “GEMA”. These are used to collect license fees if you use the melody and possibly the lyrics by artists, but record and sing everything yourself in public.
If I want to show this on Youtube, I have to have the artist’s approval in advance! This is a so-called “gray area”.
But I wouldn’t have the inclination or the money to pay fines.
I find it very strange and you hear cover songs everywhere every day.
** Do you have any experience with this? **

Thank you for your thoughts or information. Astrid


It is really a gray area, because from what I know, legally we are not allowed to cover other people’s music without permission or financial compentation. That’s the law itself.

But in reality it’s a bit different. Most creators that (excuse my french) aren’t stuck-up are actually happy to see fan-creations of their work, as long as it isn’t derogatory, or making money, even though some creators will accept one on one comissions. I have yet to make any musical covers but I’ve often made fanart for a video game, and I’ve had people who work at the company applaud my art. I also participated in a birthday gift for the director of my favourite movie, and he was equally appreciative, fan-creations have always existed, and they are hear to stay

So it’s not really the creators themselves that have a problem, but the legal higher-ups.

Of course if you find a karaoke version of a song it’s a bit different. There are these 2 channels on YouTube, called sing2piano and sing2guitar, and they arrange and record their versions themselves. They welcome people to use their versions, under the condition that you give them credit, and don’t monetize your video. They also note that the publishers who have the right to the composition might have a different point of view.


Maybe it depends how well you play it…

If you play it poorly, no one will know the song and no harm, no blood…

But if you play it really well, then someone is liable to want to sue your ass for something, somewhere, just to make a buck! This seems to be the type of world we live in.


Actually, this is a great question @AstridHandbikebee63. I too see covers on YouTube and many are very good. Not sure how the rights work.

It would be fun for some of us on this forum to post songs to share with each other. The other day when I was watching different versions of “When the Saints Come Marching In”, suggested by @Luke, it occurred to me we could do something similar, where we each upload our version of a particular song.

I see it more as a learning experience than anything else. Something where we can share with each other.

For published works, there is a 50 year time frame, after which they go into Public Domain and anyone can use them.

Is there anything similar for music? :thinking:

Maybe we could all do our best rendition of…

Itsy Bitsy Spider or some other such song?

I don’t think anyone can claim rights to them, but I may be mistaken … :wink:


Hallo @HarpinBobbyMcB, danke für dein Interesse.
Also ich habe vor, einen deutschen Song auf meiner Harp zu spielen. Das Lied ist aus den 70ern und es hat mich von da an begleitet.
Die Band ist sehr bekannt, gibt es immer noch, nur der Sänger ist ein anderer. Der Text ist aktuell wie damals schon und mir ist es sozusagen eine Ehre, diesen zu spielen. Hinzu kommt, dass ihn anscheinend noch niemand :drum: auf der ganzen :earth_africa:! auf einer Harp gespielt hat.
Ich kann es auch auf dem Keyboard begleiten und auch gut singen. Den genauen Aufbau habe ich noch nicht genau erstellt.
Aber ich habe mir jede Note für die Harp transponiert und kann es fast fehlerfrei spielen.
Gestern habe ich mit der Managerin telefoniert. :slightly_smiling_face: Um rechtlich sicher zu sein und es vielleicht auf Youtube veröffentlichen zu können. Nun soll ich den Grund usw. per Mail schicken und wenn ich es fertig habe, meine Tonaufnahme.
Dann wird dort entschieden, ob ich es dort öffentlich einstellen kann. Melodie und Text darf ich nicht verändern.
Die Rechte bei Musik bleiben sogar 70 Jahre bestehen! Youtube ist eine wirkliche Grauzone, aber irgendwelche Inkassobüros sind da vielleicht nicht weit weg. Zumindest hier in Deutschland :de:.
Tja, mein Bester, so sieht es aus. Ist schon recht aufwendig.
Wenn ich es hier am Radweg an dem Fluß für mich spielen würde, müsste ich sogenannte GEMA Gebühren bezahlen, der Amtsschimmel wiehert sehr laut. Aber die Künstler wollen und sollen auch leben.
Viele Grüße von Astrid


This is a great question and I have some experience with it.

I have only gotten a Copyright strike once, and that was back when I was doing my Funkyharp YouTube channel, I did a lesson on how to play the harmonica solo to “Take the Long Way Home” by Supertramp. The copyright strike levied by the copyright owner made my video disappear, and put me in bad standing with YouTube for 6 months with various restrictions.

I was furious in part because part of what they call the “fair use clause” is that you can use portions of copyrighted material for educational purposes, but I didn’t pursue it since I’m just one little person. I just let it go.

More often, what smarter copyright holders will do, instead levying a copyright STRIKE that forces YouTube to remove the content and punishes the channel that published it (3 copyright strikes within a certain time period will result in YouTube deleting the channel), the smarter copyright holder will issue a copyright CLAIM.

I’m not sure about the details of percentage splits, but the copyright holder who issues the claim gets to participate in some percentage of the revenue generated by the channel that publishes the content.

If you’re not monetizing your videos on YouTube, then it’s a moot point. So you can post a cover on YouTube, and when it asks you if you want to monetize with ads choose “no” and you are 100% in the clear. You don’t have to worry about getting clearance from copyright owner. It’s not a commercial enterprise. You’re just having fun, sharing with friends and family.

Fact of the matter is, it’s basically free advertising for the copyright holder because someone may well see your cover, and then go listen to the original on whatever platform they’re inclined to use. That’s why I was so angry with the Supertramp copyright owners when they struck down the video I’d worked so hard one, which only would have actually drawn more attention to the song itself! They not only shot me in the foot, they shot themselves in the foot as well.

I think @HarpinBobbyMcB brings up a great point that “size matters.” If someone covers a song in the forest and nobody hears it, does it actually make a sound? :rofl: I think for those of us who are “small potatoes” it’s often better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. I’ll give you an example:

I used to have a blues rap project called Nowelo, and some of the beats that we made sampled music from various artists. You wouldn’t be able recognize it because of the way it was manipulated, but according to law the copyright holder still needs to grant permission for this. I tried to contact them but couldn’t get a reply. Ultimately, I decided to just gamble and release it thinking that it’s most likely not going to become any kind of hit, so nobody will even notice. And that’s exactly what seems to have happened!

Intellectual property law is very important to encourage innovation in society. As it relates to our subject, if someone covers a song and makes $100k, the songwriters are entitled to their fair share. This is very important.

The point of copyright law is not to keep people from being able to enjoy singing or playing a song that they love for some friends and family! Fear not. Let’s see you cover!!!

Rock on,


Dankeschön @Luke, dass du so ausführlich und sehr verständlich geantwortet hast.
Mir hilft es sehr!
Viele Grüße von Astrid


Hi Astrid @AstridHandbikebee63,

Wie ich das verstehe, Du kannst am Radweg spielen, aber Du darfst kein Geld bekommen – auch nicht freiwillige Spenden, auch wenn Du Dein nicht Hut hinlegst oder sowas. Nur wenn die Gemeinde sowas verbietet (vielleicht wegen Störung der öffentlicher Ruhe, oder wie das auch immer heißen soll) hast Du keine Chance.

– Slim

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What about cover bands who play at live shows, do they have to pay the copyright holders for all the songs in their set? Just curious.

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Hello @mmusicman98,

You can translate the page with Google Translater.
Many greetings from Astrid

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Cover bands who are playing huge venues should definitely be paying copyright holders, but I’ve never heard of bar bands and small local cover bands paying copyright holders.

I’m sure by the letter of the law perhaps they should, but it’s certainly not common practice in my experience. Even for convention bands that I’ve played with play for several hundred people, they were not paying copyright holders for covers.

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Look out, Luke @Luke – the agents are on their way! :hushed:


In Deutschland, die GEMA, mit Sicherheit… :joy:

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I’ve been thinking about this question and have a thought which might work to share not only covers but other audio and video files with each other if what we are playing.

In my part of the world Whatsapp is used quite a bit, and while all platforms have their fans and their critics, it has been a quick easy way for me to share some of my covers with family and friends.

Making a group is pretty easy, if there are a few of us who want to share, and people can contribute as much or as little as time permits. Videos and/or Audios can be shared without all the copyright crap… I think…:wink:

I was checking on YouTube or other social media uploads and as others here indicate, there are strict guidelines with fees and procedures applying in many cases.

I was thinking we could even make group “challenges”. Something like:

Do your best rendition of:

Jingle Bells


Itsy Bitsy Spider


Any other song!

The possibilities are endless…

Anyone else interested in sharing via Whatsapp, or perhaps have another idea where we could share what we are learning with each other?


Excellent Q, :innocent:

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I can only speak for Australia, but if a venue does not pay ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) fees, bands can only play original material.

Most venues will pay for a licence, but there are a few that don’t. When we were hunting for gigs, we had to avoid those places as we didn’t have 35 original songs.*

I’m pretty sure most countries would have a fairly similar system, radio stations and venues have to pay music industry fees, or buy a licence, that allows them to play copyrighted material to the public.

*For us, 35 songs down pat was the minimum number to start booking gigs, at my insistence, less than that, and it becomes a shambles if you play for more than 3 hours. 10 songs a set, and 5 up the sleeve for encores and requests (learn the right songs, and someone will request one of them, they don’t need to know that you were going to play it anyway!).