Home » Who Owns the Cover Version of a Song? | IP Conversations

Who Owns the Cover Version of a Song? | IP Conversations

Why? What? When? How? These are some of the most used words in John’s dictionary. He’s pretty curious about the workings behind what happens in his life, and many of those have to do with the inventions and the workings of intellectual property in the world around him.

John, like everyone else, loves music. In fact, he and his friends sometimes get together to just sing and make music. Recently, they recorded a cover version of one of their favourite songs and liked it so much that they wanted to share it with other people. However, John knows there may be copyright issues involved in the process, so he turns to IP Geek for answers.

Hello IP Geek- I had a question for you. 


I’m a huge fan of Arjit Singh, and me and my friends recently made a cover version  of one of his songs. I thought this would be fine, as it’s something really small and insignificant that we made at home but then I got thinking about it and thought it might not be that easy. Can you give me some information on this, please?

Hi John!

Good call! Because, technically speaking, music covers are not covered by fair use law in India. They used to come under Section 52 (1) (j), but an amendment in 2012 repealed that provision.

Legally, cover versions under Indian law are governed by Section 31C of the Copyright Act. This provision favours the original owner of the song quite a lot. 

Under this section, a statutory license (that is, a license where the terms are governed by the Act, instead of licensor-licensee negotiations) can be taken by music cover makers five years after the song is first published. The cover makers also have to stick to the original composition and attach the prescribed royalty along with the license request.

Design protects original aesthetic appearances given to articles capable of being made and sold separately. Note that this design needs to be new and undisclosed to the public, which is why coming to me for advice before you run your business was a wise choice.

Starbucks cups, for example, have been granted design protection in the USA. Of course, it is called a Design Patent over there, but the effects are largely the same.

Okay, so we definitely did not do any of that. Does this mean we have to delete the recordings on our phones and take everything down from youtube?


Well, the law seems pretty clear-cut, but things are less stringent in practice. First of all, if your recording is something that’s only shared between family and friends, it does some under the private use clause of fair use. After all, it would be illogical for anyone to persecute every bathroom singer for not taking a license. 

In contrast, YouTube’s terms and services allow any copyright holder to issue a takedown notice, so there is some chance of your cover version being removed. 


Right, because so many people do it all the time and it might not be worth the artist’s time to go after every small copyright infringer. But I would rather not break the law, you know?


 I’m definitely glad you think that way, but like I said- this scenario does happen quite a lot, and companies often make the decision to allow the covers on youtube for greater exposure or fan goodwill. It might also be the case that the publisher has signed a contract with youtube, allowing it to take a percentage of the ad revenue of videos featuring versions of the song. 


Chances are that you will be asked to just take down the video, but legally speaking you can still be sued. 

Those are a lot of uncertain factors, and it has definitely given me something to think about. I should see which one applies to our song now so that I can stop worrying- thanks IP Geek!



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