What license(s) do I need to record and distribute a cover?

There are two copyrights involved in every recorded song:  (1) the musical work copyright and (2) the sound recording copyright.  The musical work copyright covers the musical arrangement and accompanying lyrics of a song.  The sound recording copyright covers a particular recording of a song—whether it is recorded on a CD, a digital file, or any other recordable format.  When you record a cover, you have created a new sound recording.  In general, you own the new recording, but you must have a license from the owner of the musical work copyright, which is usually a publisher or the songwriter.  This license is known as a “mechanical” license.  If the song has more than one publisher/songwriter (more than one owner), you need a mechanical license from each publisher/songwriter.  A mechanical license is different than the licenses provided by ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC—those organizations provide licenses for the public performance of music.  A mechanical license provides for the reproduction and distribution of copies of music, whether as physical copies, such as CDs, or copies made in connection with digital transmissions, including digital downloads (also known as “digital phonorecord deliveries” or “DPDs”) and interactive streaming.

For any cover you submit to ReverbNation for digital distribution, you must own or control the sound recording of the cover, and you are responsible for securing, paying for, and complying with the terms of digital download mechanical licenses for the musical work (and you shall make copies of your mechanical licenses available to ReverbNation upon request).  If you stream the cover recording from your own website with a “play now” or other on-demand feature, you also need an interactive streaming mechanical license (in addition to a public performance license from the applicable performing rights organization, such as ASCAP, BMI, and/or SESAC).

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