Can we post covers on Music? July 14, 2006 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I play with a jazz band. In jazz, covers are pretty typical, and part of the tradition. My question is -- if I have a great recording of the band I'm in doing Coltrane's "India", is that acceptable to post to MeFi Music?
posted by eustacescrubb to MetaFilter Music at 7:08 AM (33 comments total)

See here. Has the song's copyright has expired? If not, do you have a license and are you going to pay the royalty?
posted by caddis at 7:16 AM on July 14, 2006

I know it's MeFi's birthday and all, but I don't think that makes it necessary to see how many MeTa duplicate threads we can post.
posted by Plutor at 7:24 AM on July 14, 2006

I asked this exact same question in the original thread but never got an answer. A jazz group playing a standard isn't really a "cover" like Madonna by Quonsar is.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:43 AM on July 14, 2006

A jazz group playing a standard isn't really a "cover" like Madonna by Quonsar is.

If you want to get right down to it, there's no difference if the standard is under copyright. It may not have quite the stink of commercial pop music culture, but copyright is copyright.
posted by cortex at 7:46 AM on July 14, 2006

Well, I'd like to hear it. email's in profile.
posted by dobbs at 7:48 AM on July 14, 2006

What puts me all atwitter is the thought of quonsar covering Coltrane's "India" as if performed by Madonna.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:04 AM on July 14, 2006

Eustace— Are you prepared to pay the 9¢ per download if anyone from the Coltrane estate objects?

(Man, I should start a MeFi royalty insurance agency, because the odds of ever getting anything but premiums are so low...)
posted by klangklangston at 8:28 AM on July 14, 2006

dobbs: The track in question can be heard on our myspace page.

As far as distributing the recording goes, my understanding of copyright law is that the record company itself owns the copyright for the recording (e.g., Madonna's recording of "Like A Prayer", not quonsar's) and the artist's publishing company usually controls the bit having to do with licensing the song to be covered and sold. I've always heard the unless the covering artist sells enough to get on the publiishing company's radar (more than 500 units?) So, I'm guessing that giving away recordings of cover versions won't mean much to them, money-wise. But that's just my guess.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:32 AM on July 14, 2006

klanklangston -- tell me more about the 9¢ per download? Is this a law? Or standard practice?
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:34 AM on July 14, 2006

Ah, never mind, kk -- I found it.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:46 AM on July 14, 2006

You guys did an awesome job with that standard. Sounds great. I think the jazz tradition is significantly different than rock/pop and would love to hear them on Mefi. But I guess you should wait to hear from Matt.
posted by Roger Dodger at 8:51 AM on July 14, 2006

A lot of people have always heard [variation on why it's not an issue].

The distinction is between the practical ("no one is ever going to notice or care that you're doing this small-time thing") and the bloody-minded possible ("someone notices after all and takes action").

The worst-case scenario is that someone with a lot of money and a lot of lawyers gets vindictive, good intentions and practicalities begoddamned.

When it's your house, you make that call however you want, basically. I've got various covers I've done on my webspace, here and there. I don't expect trouble, but if I have trouble, it'll be my trouble.

I've also got a cover posted on Music, and it sounds like Matt may go ahead and play things a bit safer going forward, in which case that (and a few other folks' songs—see quonsars madonna-ry) will have to come down. Which is cool: it's his house, he's the one who is going to get the bother if someone does happen to get up in arms about a cover hosted on Music.
posted by cortex at 8:51 AM on July 14, 2006

OK, looks like Harry Fox has a license for "permanent downloads" and "India" is something they can license. So, supposing we obtained such a license and gave proof of same to Matt, then we could post covers?
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:52 AM on July 14, 2006

Note that, personally, I trend toward the hippie-dippy side. I would have been pleased to have Matt say, hey, fuck it, covers all you want, and to hell with The Man. But, as others have pointed out before, it'd be sad to see Music (and, who knows, Mefi in toto) shut down by a crippling legal dispute. Probably best to keep covers off-site and drop a link into the discussion where appropriate. Like here!
posted by cortex at 8:53 AM on July 14, 2006

I don't want to speak for Matt, but I fail to see why not.
posted by caddis at 8:53 AM on July 14, 2006

The way I read "permanent downloads" is that the download is permanent, not the license. I.e., metafilter would still have to count the downloads to pay for them. But I could be wrong.
posted by exogenous at 8:59 AM on July 14, 2006


I read it the same way, but it looks like the license covers a range of downloads - 2500- so I guess the question is whether or not songs posted to Music ever get downloaded more than that.
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:03 AM on July 14, 2006

According to the FAQ, the permanent download covers you up to 150 downloads per day, with no cap.
You might also contact the publishers of the song to see if you can get a reduced rate.
posted by klangklangston at 9:13 AM on July 14, 2006

eustace, the easiest way out of this is to go back to the source. Write your own melody over the chord changes.
posted by Captaintripps at 10:20 AM on July 14, 2006

I'm not sure that's entirely in the spirit of the question, though, Cap'n.
posted by cortex at 11:01 AM on July 14, 2006

It's more importantly in the spirit of jazz.
posted by Captaintripps at 11:04 AM on July 14, 2006

But only for those who want to sidestep the issue of covers by composing their own take on the song.

In other words, I agree with the sentiment but still don't think it has much to do with the larger stated question of covers.
posted by cortex at 11:08 AM on July 14, 2006

Well, that's the funny thing about "India" -- the head is mostly a repetition of the same two notes. (But there's something really compelling about the melody. It's very memorable.) The other 13 minutes of the song are improvisation. That's the thing I love about jazz and the reason I think modenr copyright law w/r/t music actually gets in the way of one of the best traditions in jazz. It's like there's been this long conversation going on only recently, we've had laws that make it so that the guy who started the conversation (or the owers of his copyrights) gets to decide all the participants in the conversation.
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:12 AM on July 14, 2006

Jazz, pfft. They just make it up as they go along. I could do that: dee dee-dee dee dee dee dee...
posted by Plutor at 11:18 AM on July 14, 2006

Yeah. Good improvisational jazz really pushes the question in a way that a cover of Freebird does not. However, from a muckymuck pessimist point of view, it's still a problem if someone can say, "hey, that's a really great version of [copyrighted work]."
posted by cortex at 11:18 AM on July 14, 2006

So I'm okay if I do a crappy version, then?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:20 AM on July 14, 2006

Bingo. I therefore declare this the first Mefi Music Theme Weekend: post your unidentifiably bad covers of songs, complete with made up titles to cover your tracks!
posted by cortex at 11:36 AM on July 14, 2006

cortex, last time I checked this wasn't Ask MetaFilter. I don't have to "answer the question." The question of covers has been pretty well covered. Someone gotta be paid. I'm not going to go into offering advice on this because even though I'm heavily involved in digital distribution, all the necessary information has been offered.

Playing over the changes with a new melody was how many jazz greats got around this issue of somebody gotta get paid back in the day.

As to whether MetaFilter Music is a good idea (something I missed out on commenting on), I certainly don't believe it is as far as the legal aspects go.
posted by Captaintripps at 11:40 AM on July 14, 2006

You can't copyright a chord progression, but if you play the melody, even briefly, it's a cover. Cotrane's version of "My Favorite Things" still generates royalties for Rodgers and Hammerstein.

I guess the answer really is "don't play the head" (and maybe change the title just to be safe).
posted by timeistight at 12:44 PM on July 14, 2006

cortex, last time I checked this wasn't Ask MetaFilter.

Whoa, doggy. I didn't mean it like that—apologies if I came across as chiding. I was just trying to be clear about what did and didn't fall into the territory of copyright trouble, not what did and didn't qualify as good conversation. As much as anything, I'm happy that you brought the question of jazz improv as edgecase into play. See timeistight's Coltrane/R&H comment for what I was getting at.
posted by cortex at 1:04 PM on July 14, 2006

Well, as far as writing a new melody goes, we're in the process of compsing our own material; we're just being rather picky, and we're also doing a lot of experimenting -- like recording live and then moving around/splicing different bits of melodies together in Logic, or using Ableton Live to trigger song ideas, making hip-hop beats and then playing over top of them, etc. You can hear some of that happening in our version of "India" but what it boils down to is that until we get our own stuff written and polished, standards are our best material.

But I can wait til we have something of our own recorded to post to MeFi Music.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:34 PM on July 14, 2006

I play jazz for a living (it seems i do lot of different shit for a living). Whenever I perform a "standard" I never feel like I'm doing a "cover."

That current take is so off the cuff and on the fly that it must be an original composition based off of a sixty year old framework.

Just try telling that to ASCAP and BMI.
posted by sourwookie at 12:31 AM on July 15, 2006

This is really quite a gray area. I posted an arrangement I did and performance of my group of a piece composed (and probably enough to merit a captial C) by another person. Does that count? What happens to all the online recordings of amateur groups playing "composed" pieces? I purchased the original score. Does that affect it?

I also have waiting in the wings an arrangement of the theme to Starblazers for brass quintet. This time there was no score and I had to do some serious leg work to find out who wrote the dang thing (and I'm not even sure I'm right) for program notes. How the heck would I get royalties to him?
posted by plinth at 4:49 AM on July 15, 2006

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