/ Are Piano Covers Copyrighted?

Are Piano Covers Copyrighted?

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Manish Jindal

December 11, 2023


0min read

Are Piano Covers Copyrighted?

Are piano covers copyrighted? “Piano Covers and Copyright Law” is a captivating topic that explores the intersection between creative musical expression and legal boundaries.

It delves into the questions around whether or not piano covers – adaptations of original musical compositions played on the piano – are protected by copyright laws.

This involves an understanding of how copyright law protects original works, and how it applies to derivative works, such as covers.

The topic also addresses the important considerations that musicians must take into account to avoid infringing upon the rights of original composers.

By analysing these elements, we can better appreciate the balance between artistic freedom and intellectual property rights in the world of music.

Mechanical License for the Piano Covers

A mechanical license is a legal agreement that permits the license holder to reproduce a recorded piece of music, such as in creating a cover version of a song.

This is an important aspect when discussing piano covers in the context of copyright law.

When a musician wishes to create a piano cover of an existing copyrighted song, they typically need to obtain a mechanical license from the copyright owner, often the composer or the music publishing company representing the composer.

This license gives the musician the rights to record and distribute the song for sale, providing they pay royalties to the original copyright holder. The rates for these royalties are often set by law.

In the United States, these compulsory mechanical licenses are handled by entities like the Harry Fox Agency or through the new Mechanical Licensing Collective, established by the Music Modernisation Act of 2018.

Obtaining a mechanical license is a critical step for musicians who want to sell or distribute their piano covers, either physically or digitally, to ensure they are respecting the copyright of the original work.

It’s always recommended to consult with a professional or legal expert when dealing with these aspects of copyright law.

What is Synch License for Piano Covers?

If you want to create a video of your piano cover and distribute it on platforms such as YouTube, you may need a synch license in addition to a mechanical license.

This is because the cover song is being synchronised with the visual elements of the video.

Synch licenses are negotiated directly with the copyright holder of the song, often the publisher, or their representative.

It’s worth noting that many platforms have agreements with certain publishers for user-generated content, but it’s always wise to make sure you have the necessary rights before uploading a cover song video.

Exclusive Rights of Original Artist in Piano Cover Copyright Violation

In copyright law, the original artist of a song, or the copyright holder (often a music publishing company), retains exclusive rights to the song’s reproduction, distribution, and public performance.

This means they have the right to control who can use their work and how it is used. These rights also extend to derivative works, which would include piano covers.

A piano cover is considered a derivative work because it is based on the original copyrighted song.

This means that without proper licensing, even if the cover is an original performance, it might infringe upon the rights of the original copyright holder.

The specifics can depend on the jurisdiction and the specific nature of the cover, but generally, these are the rights that could be infringed:

Reproduction Right: This right is violated when the cover is recorded, as this constitutes creating a copy of the copyrighted work.

Distribution Right: If copies of the cover are sold, leased, or otherwise distributed to the public without permission, this could infringe upon the original artist’s distribution rights.

Public Performance Right: If the piano cover is played in a public setting or streamed online without permission, this could be a violation of the original artist’s performance rights.

The Right to Prepare Derivative Works: By creating a piano cover, you are essentially creating a derivative work based on the original composition. This could infringe upon the original artist’s exclusive right to control the creation of derivative works.

Are Piano Covers Copyrighted?

Safeguarding piano covers from copyright violation involves ensuring you are respecting the rights of the original copyright holder. Here are some steps you can take:

Obtain Necessary Licenses

If you plan to record, distribute, or sell your piano cover, or synchronise it with video content, you’ll typically need to obtain the appropriate licenses such as mechanical or synch licenses.

In the U.S., mechanical licenses can be obtained from the Mechanical Licensing Collective, Harry Fox Agency or other licensing bodies.

Synch licenses are generally negotiated directly with the copyright holder or their representative.

Pay Required Royalties

When you obtain the appropriate licenses, you agree to pay royalties on the revenues generated by your cover to the copyright holder.

Make sure to follow through on these agreements to avoid legal issues.

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Use Licensed Platforms

Some online platforms have licensing agreements with music publishers that cover use of their music on the platform.

Be aware that the coverage and terms of these licenses can vary, so always check the specifics.

Respect Fair Use

“Fair Use” is a doctrine in U.S. copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder under certain circumstances, such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, or academic research.

However, determining fair use can be complex and is usually decided on a case-by-case basis by the courts, so consult with a legal professional if you’re unsure.

Seek Legal Advice

Copyright law can be complex and varies between countries. If you are unsure whether your use of copyrighted music in a piano cover is legal, it’s best to seek professional legal advice.

By taking these steps, you can help protect your piano covers from infringing upon the rights of copyright holders.


In conclusion, piano covers fall into an intricate space within copyright law. While they are original performances, they are also considered derivative works of the original copyrighted songs.

This means that musicians who wish to perform, record, distribute, or create videos of piano covers must typically obtain the necessary licenses and pay any required royalties to avoid infringing upon the exclusive rights of the original copyright holder.

The process can be complex and is dependent on the specific laws and regulations of each jurisdiction, making it crucial for musicians to understand their responsibilities under copyright law.

With the right knowledge and guidance, musicians can respect the rights of original artists while continuing to share their own interpretations of beloved songs.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are piano covers protected by copyright law?

Yes, piano covers are protected by copyright law as they are considered derivative works of the original compositions.

Without proper licensing, creating a piano cover could potentially infringe upon the exclusive rights of the original copyright holder.

2. Do I need a license to perform a piano cover?

If you’re performing a piano cover live in a public setting or streaming online, you generally need a performance license.

Venues often have blanket licenses from performance rights organisations that cover performances in their space, but for online streaming, it can be more complicated and platform-dependent.

3. Can I record and sell my piano covers?

Yes, you can record and sell your piano covers, but typically you need a mechanical license from the copyright holder or their representative.
This allows you to legally reproduce and distribute the song.

4. Do I need a license to post my piano cover on YouTube or other social platforms?

If you’re synchronising your piano cover with video, you generally need a synchronisation, or synch, license.

However, some platforms have agreements with music publishers that cover user-generated content.

Always check the terms and conditions of each platform to be sure.

5. What happens if I violate copyright with my piano cover?

If you violate copyright with your piano cover, you may be asked to remove your cover from public platforms, and you could potentially face legal action, which might include financial damages.

To avoid this, it’s important to obtain the appropriate licenses and pay any required royalties.

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