How To Legally Do A YouTube Song Cover

How To Legally Do A YouTube Song Cover

Written by Jaron Lewis

Doing covers legally on YouTube has become a lot easier in the past five years. A compromise has been found so creators and cover artists can benefit from working together. Below are two things you’ll need, if you’re a cover artist, to cover a song on YouTube legally.

How To Get A Mechanical License

A mechanical license allows anyone to do a cover version of an artist’s song. The license can be obtained in various ways depending on the country you’re in. If you’re in Canada, the CMRRA can help you obtain a license and if you’re in America, the Harry Fox Agency can help you. This gives you the avenue to compensate the label if your video makes money. The current rate for this kind of monetization is 9.1 cents in the United States and 8.3 cents in Canada; this is called a statutory royalty fee.

There are many layers to copyright law. A Mechanical License only gives you the right to reproduce and distribute the song, which YouTube allows you to do; however, it doesn’t allow you to publicly perform or put the song on public display. This breaks the license.

How To Get A Synch License

A Synch license is the other side of covering songs on YouTube within the law. This license allows you to publish the song to YouTube. Getting this license can require you to contact the copyright owner and negotiate for it. Because it’s very difficult to get this license, so it’s better to opt for abiding by YouTube’s Content ID program. Under the program, the copyright owner can take down if they don’t want you to use their creations.

If the copyright owner likes your song, they can opt to take a share of the profits made from ad revenue. Of course, they could also leave the video alone entirely, but they will be notified that their work is being used by someone else.

Three Strikes

If you fail to get permission and continue to use the copyright’s owner creation, actions will be taken. At most, you will be sued, but this isn’t likely. Most of the time your video will be deleted from YouTube.

However, if you reach three strikes, your account may be deleted as well as all your videos. This is known as the “three strikes” policy. In addition, you’ll permanently be blocked from making new YouTube accounts and using the community feature.


Being a YouTube cover artist can launch your career as a musician. Many artists were found on the platform such as Justin Bieber, Soujia Boy and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Performing fantastic covers of popular songs can launch your career. A recent example is Alex Aiono. Although he writes his own songs, his channel prominently features covers of popular hip hop and R&B songs. Currently, his channel has 4.8 million subscribers. Pentatonix, another YouTube darling, mainly covers current and past songs of different genres. They’re subscriber count is over 13.2million.



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