There was a great discussion on Twitter today about cover songs and the Podsafe Music Network. Disclosure: I am not a lawyer. My understanding of copyright and intellectual property law is based solely on all the stuff I've read to be in compliance with the law and what ASCAP/BMI sent me when I applied for licenses for my show, the Financial Aid Podcast.
There are three basic rights when a song is created by a musician:
- Composition rights. This is the sheet music, the notes themselves.
- Performance rights. This is the expression of the music out loud.
- Mechanical rights. This is the recording of the music. Sometimes called reproduction rights.
In the United States, performance rights and mechanical rights are often lumped together, while composition rights are kept separate, thus necessitating clearinghouses like ASCAP and BMI for composition rights, and labels and Harry Fox Agency for mechanical rights. As I learned at Podcasters Across Borders this summer, Canada separates all three and has three distinct licensing agencies to deal with the varying rights.
When it comes to cover music on the Podsafe Music Network, an artist who uploads a cover has rights only to the performance and the mechanical; the MP3 file is both performance and recording in one. The artist does NOT have rights to the composition itself, and uploading a cover to the PMN is a violation of the terms of service, because they're essentially misrepresenting someone else's composition rights as their own. This also means the composer is NOT getting paid for use of their work.
When it comes to playing music on your podcast, play it safe. Only play original podsafe music uploaded by the artists or their legal representation (labels), unless you have an ASCAP/BMI license. If you're not sure whether a song is original or not, Google the title and a lyric or two, and you'll soon find out.