Questions about cover band on YouTube

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  • There's a band on YouTube that does covers of popular songs by listening to the songs on headphones and then trying to play along without being able to hear themselves. The results are pretty noisy, cacophanous, and jarring -- but at the same time, immediately recognizable and as a result, quite funny. The band then takes the original music videos (by the original artists), replaces the audio with their new version of the song, and posts it as their own. The juxtaposition of the pro visuals with the out-of-key vocals and bad musicianship is often hilarious.

    I have three copyright questions about what this band is doing. Let's assume the band got the needed mechanical licenses from the song publishers in order to distribute CDs and music downloads of their songs. (Although I've never seen their music available for sale, so this may not be a correct assumption.)

    Q1) Does obtaining a mechanical license in order to sell recordings of a song also allow that song to be posted on YouTube? If not, what is additionally needed for YouTube?

    Q2) Does the band's re-use of other people's video footage reasonably constitute "fair use"? Either as "parody or satire" or "cultural commentary" or as "pastiche" in this instance?

    Q3) If it's unclear whether the cover version of the song has a proper mechanical license or not, what happens when a radio station downloads one of the band's songs off of YouTube and plays it over the air?

    Apart from Q2, the other two questions would apply to any amateur musician/singer who posts themselves on YouTube covering a popular song and suddenly find themselves getting a lot of attention on the Internet.

    Thanks in advance!
  • I just noticed your question languishing. Because this bulletin board is focused on library use, and the issues that you mention are probably not tremendously likely to come up in most libraries, it may be outside of the comfort zone for some of us (including myself). For more information on mechanical licensing, you may wish to read the US Copyright Office's circular 73 at

    If any folks here are familiar with compulsary licensing, please chime in!

    As for Q2, it is possible that use of the video footage might be considered fair use, but I don't think it would automatically be from the information you've provided here. I think that the band would need to do a fair use analysis in each case, considering especially how much of the footage is being used and how its use would be considered parody or satire.

    I don't see how pastiche would be an arguement for fair use at all.

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