Do You Need Permission to Cover A Song On YouTube? (All You Need to Know)

You don’t need permission to upload a cover song to YouTube, but you need to contact the copyright owners to be 100% sure that your video will not be taken down. Luckily, most content owners choose not to take down YouTube covers of their songs, opting instead to block or share monetization.

Contacting the copyright owners of a song just to upload a cover to YouTube is time-consuming and often unattainable. Reaching out to content owners via a performance rights organization can be lengthy, and so is sending a direct email to an artist or label you don’t know personally. So, is there a better way to safely upload a cover song to YouTube?

If you don’t want all of your hard work to go down the drain, you need to understand how copyright laws work inside YouTube and how the YouTube Content ID program was designed. Only then you can find out whether or not you should/can upload a cover of a specific song to YouTube.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about uploading a cover song to YouTube. You can find more information about the business and legal side of the music industry here.

Important note: We are not lawyers, if in doubt then get legal advice! That said, this should act as a very useful overview of copyright and licensing based on our understanding from a combination of experience and research.

Publishing covers on YouTube: how does it work?

You’ve just recorded a video of yourself playing your favorite song on the acoustic guitar and want to share it on YouTube. You spend hours rehearsing the song and editing the video, only to find out a copyright claim was filed against it. Is it all over now? 

Don’t panic: while some content owners do take down videos of covers of their songs, most just want to collect a portion of your earnings.

So, how do YouTube permissions work for cover songs? No, it’s not enough to write “I do not own the rights to this music” on the video description. That’s pretty much worthless, or even worse, just drawing attention to that fact that you’re breaking copyright! The future of your beloved cover will depend on how the content owners of the original song choose to manage the sharing and monetization of their content on YouTube.

When you upload a cover song to YouTube, one of three things will happen: you’ll be forced to let go of all the money the video makes, you’ll get to keep part of the earnings of the video and share the rest with the content owners, or you’ll be forced to take the video down (which is less common than you’d think).

YouTube permissions change from label to label and artist to artist. However, there are only three types of YouTube copyright claims (apart from the very rare cases involving lawsuits).

1. The monetization is shared

The best of copyright claims. When your cover video gets flagged with a “Sharing” monetization notice, that means that the content owners have chosen to allow you to keep a portion of your earnings. They want you to make covers of their songs, so they incentivize you to do so by sharing the revenue with you.

2. The monetization is blocked

Arguably the most common of copyright claims. Content owners are happy that you’re sharing a cover of one of their songs, but they don’t want you to make money with it. They opt to keep 100% of the revenue to themselves. The video stays online and you may get some exposure out of it. As for money, you get no income from the endeavor.

3. The video is taken down

The worst and rarest of copyright claims. Some content owners simply don’t want you to cover their songs, so they will ask YouTube to take down any video containing one of their tunes.

In sum, you should be able to upload a cover song to YouTube and keep the video online in most cases. The hardest part is to keep the money your video makes. While many content owners don’t mind sharing, most will choose to keep the entirety of the revenue to themselves.

How does YouTube Content ID work?

Managing copyright claims has been a lifelong battle for the guys that run YouTube. That’s why they decided to invest $100 million in the development of YouTube Content ID, a program for identifying and tackling copyrighted content on the website. But how does it work?

First, the content owners must provide a sample of their copyrighted songs to YouTube. They will be given a digital “fingerprint” and stored in YouTube Content ID’s database. Whenever a cover of the song appears on the website, the program identifies it and a copyright claim is filed.

The type of copyright claim that’s filed is selected beforehand by the content owners. They have three options: to take down the video, monetize it partially or completely, or track viewer data associated with it.

From the cover artist’s point of view, the options are more limited. Cover artists can choose beforehand to leave monetization in “On” or “Sharing” for each of their videos. In case a false copyright claim is filed, every YouTube user is entitled to dispute such a claim and get retroactive access to his or her earnings.

How to make money with covers on YouTube?

That’s the gist of it! If you want to upload a cover song to YouTube just for others to see it, you should be okay. But if you want to make money out of it, things can get a little trickier. Does this mean uploading covers to YouTube is simply not profitable? Well, not exactly.

Uploading covers to YouTube is worth it for two reasons: because you get some much-needed exposure and because there’s a decent chance you’ll get to share the earnings of your video with the copyright owners.

By covering a popular song, you’ll most likely attract new people to your channel. It’s a good way to get noticed: once listeners find your cover exciting, they will probably explore some of your other videos (and perhaps even listen to your original songs, which can be fully monetized).

A hit cover song on YouTube can also be a reasonable moneymaker IF the content owners have decided to share the revenue with you. To get in control of the situation, you can use websites such as We Are The Hits. In We Are The Hits, you can find a very thorough list of popular songs and see if they are monetization-free or not. All you have to do is enter the name of the song in the search bar.

Can you get rich uploading cover songs to YouTube?

Uploading cover songs to YouTube is worth it, but it’s far from being the best way to make money online as a musician.

AmaZane, a relatively popular YouTuber who often posts cover songs, asked the same question herself. Her video is quite revealing: unless you’re hitting millions of views, YouTube covers aren’t exactly going to pay the rent.

The video above is also interesting because it shows how YouTube copyright guidelines and monetization work. As AmaZane navigates her YouTube settings, you get to see how the different options filed by content owners are presented to cover artists.

Summary

YouTube is an essential tool for every musician, whether you’re working with original content or cover songs. Understanding how copyright laws work inside YouTube can look tricky at first, but it’s very easy in the end. YouTube’s ambitious Content ID program helped to simplify the entire process by giving three different options to content owners.

Assuming your cover won’t be taken down (which is unlucky), you should have no issues with uploading cover songs to YouTube. Just to be on the safe side, you can always research the monetization status of the song you’re covering before getting down to work. For such, We Are The Hits and similar websites can be very convenient.

It’s always important to know about the legal and business side of music. But in the end, never forget about the most important: having fun and putting some quality songs out there!

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

Leave a Comment

Leave a reply

Musician Wave
Logo