Copyright rules are an often-confusing area of law. People may believe all kinds of misinformation about copyright protections even when they work in the entertainment industry. For example, there have been scenarios in which musical artists have taken legal action against politicians playing their music as part of political rallies. They send letters that prevent public figures from playing their music without permission.
There is largely an assumption that those who composing release the original works of music should have control over those works. There is also sometimes a desire to reinterpret an existing work to modernize it or change it. Can someone who has released a song take legal action against another musician or band for covering their original work?
Covers are legal with a mechanical license
Certain areas of copyright law are hard to interpret and require a case-by-case analysis to determine what rights someone may have. Other scenarios are much more cut-and-dry.
While a musician does have control over their original composition and works, they do not always have control over the decision of other artists to cover or re-release the same song. A mechanical license is all that a different musician needs to obtain to legally cover a song.
The artist hoping to release a cover of a song that has not yet become part of the public domain usually needs to obtain permission either from the original artist or the business that holds the licensing rights to their music. While the musician themselves may not relish the idea of the cover, the company that has a contract with them may want the potential royalties and exposure. They could grant the license even without the artist’s blessing in some cases.
Pursuing a proper license can help a creative professional release new works and may even drive interest in the original song that another decides to cover. Seeking legal guidance is a good way to get started.