A friend of mine claims that there is a Spanish version of the Beatles song, “Ob La De Ob La Da” done by a group from Mexico. The song’s lyrics are even about the same subject matter. The music is identical.
Does this group need to get the Beatles permission to release this song? Do they owe the Beatles a percentage of the profits? Must they credit the Beatles on the CD they put out?
IIRC a Mexican (or Japanese, Arabic or Xhosa) reinterpretation of a Beatles song can be released, as long as all the proper royalties are paid and the agents of the rights-holders are satisfied that all applicable IP laws have been complied with. So yes, the Beatles (or rather the multiple corporate and personal entities that share the chain of profit of that catalog) have better get paid, and Lennon-McCartney had beter get first credit, with the translator/rewriter getting an additional lyricist credit.
Right around the time the Beatles hit, to do local-language versions of big pop hits from elsewhere was the normal thing to do and the Beatles themselves did this for their German market when they broke big (Sie Liebt Dich and Komm gib mir deine Hand, with supplementary lyricist credits). When doing covers in this manner it was not uncommon to replace the lyrics with something that would not just fit the meter but also make cultural sense to the audience and foremost, be a better hook – for instance, “My Way” (as in the one done by Sinatra, Presley, Vicious, etc.) is a complete re-lyric, not a translation, by Paul Anka of a preexisting French hit.
For a certain era in Quebec (roughly 1950s-70s), releasing English-language songs in French was a given. For example, here’s Muguette (from Quebec) covering Eileen (from France)'s cover of a Nancy Sinatra song.
There was a brief transitional period, in the late 70s to early 80s, when cassette tapes in Mexico would typically have the song titles translated, but the music itself would be the originals. I recall specifically “Dejalo Ser” for “Let It Be”. I’m sure that was all handled by the legal record production and distribution companies, so no copyright issues there.
ETA - I know Let It Be is from 1970, but the cassette edition in Mexico I’m referring to may have come out a few years later.
A more recent recipient of the type of royalties in question are Cheap Trick — an old hit of theirs was transformed into a Mexican country-pop tune “Quiero que me Quieras” as part of a film soundtrack (for ‘Rudo y Cursi’) a few years ago.
You know, I can get ‘Quiero que me quieras’ to scan with the melody, but I’m having a hard time with ‘Necesito que me necesitas’. (‘Amaria que me amas’ seems to work, though). What did a real Spanish speaker use for the lyrics?
As for permission to make a new recording (with new or original lyrics): The default payment in the US is a mechanical royalty. But these are almost always negotiated down. If the copyright holder is unhappy about a new version, they’ll refuse to negotiate and many times the other company will not release their version to avoid paying the higher fee.
Overseas, negotiated fees are the rule.
A mere translation of copyrighted material into another language is not considered an completely new work. So they have to pay fees on the lyrics and music. If they came up with entirely new words, regardless of language, then it’s only the music rights they have to pay for.
Check out Cast Album Data Base for a list of whole musicals released in foreign languages. As long as the royalties are paid, it’s legal. And, if you’re doing a musical, you have to pay grand rights to the composer and lyicist every time you use their songs. It’s an easy way to get rich.