Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Do YouTube performers have to pay?


Dear Sir,

There are so many people on YouTube who cover famous songs.

I am curious about whether they have to pay anything to the publishers or songwriters?

My sincere thanks,


Thanks for asking this important question.
The short answer is generally, yes, although most do not.  
You do not pay YouTube, you pay the copyright holder, which is generally the publisher, and the publisher in turn pays the songwriters.

There are three situations:
(1) you perform your own original song
(2) you perform a cover song
(3) you use an exiting soundtrack in your video (someone else's recording of a song)

In #1 above, obviously you do not have to pay, if you own the song (or if you have specific permission from the copyright holder).  In fact, you would be paid when the song is played or used in any way.

In #2 above, you have have a synchronization license to post the cover song legally.  That is different from the mechanical compulsory license you would need to make a recording of the song.
A common mistake is that an artist gets the mechanical license to record and make copies of the song ($91 USD per 1000 copies),and they think that allows them to post a video. The mechanical license does NOT grant the right to use it in connection with a video.  That is a synchronization license, which is to be negotiated separately with the copyright administrator (usually the publisher).  

In #3 above, in addition to the sync license, you would also need a Master Use license, to allow use of the specific recording if it is not your own.

Most people are completely unaware of all of the above, and many choose to disregard it in any case.  If someone does post to YouTube without a license, it is up to the publisher/copyright
holder to decide if they want to do anything about it.   Some are very aggressive (like Disney) and will immediately have it removed.  Some may or may not allow it to stay there, and some may request that the license fee be paid or else there will be removal of the video.  It is up to the rights holder to decide what they want to do if their material is being used illegally.

If there is an instance where an unlicensed song is posted and it generates significant monetary amounts, then there can be a lawsuit for financial compensation, but that is rare as most unlicensed videos do not generate much cash flow, thus the usual action is to request a takedown, and that puts a strike against the account of the one who posted it.  I believe YouTube allows a certain number of strikes against an account, after which the person is then banned from posting anything at all.

There is more detailed info on YouTube in their extensive section on copyrights.

The best thing to do is to post your own original work, or to get the needed permission to use cover material.

I hope this helps clarify your question.  

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Bill Pere


Can answer questions on : Technical aspects of lyric and music compostion; How to give and receive objective critique; Arranging and production; Concrete vs abstract imagery; Use of metaphor; Rhyme techniques; Song Structure; Collaboration; Songwriter Associations; Promotion; Guitar technique; Music Business;


Grammy-Award-winning songwriter; President of the Connecticut Songwriters Association and Director of the Connecticut Songwriting Academy; Named one of the Top 50 Innovators and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry in 2008 by Music Connection Magazine; Author of "Songcrafters' Coloring Book:The Essential Guide to Effective and Successful Songwriting." Named Independent Artist of the Year,by the 2003 national Independent Music Conference; 30 years as a professional singer-songwriter; 16 original CD's released;
Have had songs placed on other artists' CD's. Twice named Connecticut Songwriter of the Year.
20 years as Executive Director of the LUNCH Ensemble. Have attended more than 200 presentations by top industry professionals and have critiqued thousands of songs. Have written and produced dozens of stage plays and hundreds of concert events; Have coached hundreds of aspiring songwriters, and collaborated with several award winning writers. Have written commissioned songs as an Official Connecticut State Troubadour. Music Director of youth choirs and music camps.

Connecticut Songwriters Association (President); LUNCH Ensemble (Local United Network to Combat Hunger -- Exec, Director); CMEA (Connecticut Music Educators Association); Folk Alliance; Association For Psychological Type; Songsalive; WE R Indie; Creative Songwriting Academy;

Songcrafters' Coloring Book: The Essential Guide to Effective and Succesful Songwriting Songwriters Market (2001, 2002); Connecticut Songsmith; Contemporary Songwriter Magazine; Songwriters Musepaper;
Songcrafter's Coloring Book;   Strategies for Teaching Guitar;

Masters Degree Molecular Biology; Certified MBTI Practitioner (Myers Briggs Type Indicator); Connecticut Secondary Public School Teaching Certificate; Author: "Songcrafters' Coloring Book: The Essential Guide to Effective and Successful Songwriting"

Awards and Honors
2012 Grammy; Named one of the Top 50 Innovators and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry in 2008 by Music Connection Magazine; Independent Artist of the Year, (2003 national Indie Conference); Official Connecticut State Troubadour, appointed by CT Commission on the Arts, 1995 ; 1982 and 1992 CT Songwriter of the Year; 2000 Award for 20 years of Outstanding Service to Songwriters;
2002 CSA Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education through Music; Numerous awards for outstanding community outreach through music; 1997 Citation from Connecticut Legislature for exemplary dedication to community outreach through music. 1995 Renaissance Award for multiple music achievements in a single year.   Invited Presenter and Mentor at various Music Conventions

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