File sharing of covers and parodies

YANAL/YANML and I am not seeking legal advice.

As I understand it, you are free to cover or parody a song, and the original artist gets royalties for performances but usually can’t refuse permission (Weird Al asks out of professional courtesy). However, I am aware of some albums consisting of covers of one artist (or genre, etc., . Some of these are released free online by torrent or direct download (e.g.). Say I cover the entirety of Master of Puppets. Does Metallica or their label have the sole right to allow or deny (who are we kidding - deny) free distribution even if the new artist and label say it’s okay?

Does the answer change if the free music instead uses samples from the original song?

If you use the music, you’re required to pay royalties. Writing parody lyrics doesn’t change that (Acuff-Rose v. Campbell).

They can’t stop you from recording the song or for giving them away for free so long as you pay the proper fees. If you don’t pay, then it’s pirated and they can take you down.

Free distribution does not affect the law.

The rules for samples are less clear cut. There’s a little wiggle room, but not a lot.

Thanks, didn’t see your reply earlier. Do we assume that the onus for keeping it legal is on the people involved in the covering, and the original artist/label would go after them but not individual users (however rare that may be)?

I’d wondered this earlier but didn’t really pursue finding out an answer then. But it seems related now:

When the recent WKRP in Cincinnati box set was released they had much of the original music but one of the hold outs was Pink Floyd. In a memorable scene where Pink Floyd’s Dogs was being played, the publisher substituted some Pink Floyd sounding generic music (it was instrumental so easier to do) and it worked well enough given the circumstances.

I was wondering though, could they have just hired some musicians (the WKRP DVD Box Set Players!) to cover that portion of the music and then paid them? Or paid Pink Floyd whatever the standard rate is for a cover version? It seemed too easy to work and, given that they didn’t go that route it probably is, but I was wondering what the logistics would be.

Some Internet know-it-all has covered the “permissions” part.

The real key is how much you pay. You really want to pay the lesser negotiated amount. You’ll save a lot of money. That means you contact the publisher.

If you skip doing it legally, the danger it that you will pay not just max. royalties, but penalties as well.

Good question. I was once hired to do an exact, note-for note transcription of a sax part for an album so it could be replayed by someone other than the original artist. The original artist had refused to permit his performance to be used on the finished work, and it was holding up release of the album.

I was also engaged in perfecting a re-recording of the MAS*H theme, Suicide is Painless, for much the same reason. Our task was to recreate the song/recording as accurately as possible, but be able to prove, legally, that the final product was not violating use permissions of the original.

(Incidentally, the MASH project was harder than the other, as we had only a stereo mix to go by, and it took some very good ears (mine) to determine what each instrument was playing. For the other project, I was given a special stereo mix from the 16-track multi with the single instrument on one channel and the rest of them on the other. The ideal mix for my purpose.)

So I don’t see why a Pink Floyd re-recording couldn’t have been done for WKRP’s purposes. It was certainly done in many other, similar, situations.

That would save negotiating with the owner of the recording, but It would still require negotiating sync rights with whoever owned the copyright on the song. In some cases the same people may own both.

In the case of the sax part, the sax player also had writing credits, but the doctrine of compulsory licensing prevented him from blocking release of a recording of his song. He would get paid for the composition even if he didn’t perform on it.

As far as the MASH situation, I don’t remember any more details. You may be right about the WKRP sync rights being the holdup there.