If you’re a music-maker, at some point in your process, you may want to use other peoples’ music – whether via sampling, recording a cover version, or in academic study, for example. In all cases, there’s a legal way to do that while respecting the copyright of, and ensuring fair compensation for, the original songwriter, or composer, and music publisher. Usually, it’s a matter of obtaining permission first.
If you’re sampling a song, then both the copyright owner(s) of the recording of the song, and the copyright owner(s) of the song itself, must grant permission. So, for example, if you wanted to sample the solo from Blue Rodeo’s “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” you’d have to get permission for use of the recording from Warner Music Canada, and for the use of the song from its co-writers, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, and/or its publisher, Thunder Hawk Music.
Although in most cases when a music publisher is involved, they’ve been granted, by contract, the right to negotiate payment and provide permission on behalf of the songwriters or composers that they represent. If that’s the case with Cuddy and Keelor, then you’d obtain permission for all three rights holders in the song from Thunder Hawk Music.
Recording a Cover Version
If you wish to record a cover version of an original copyright-protected song, you have to get permission from the copyright holders of the song, but not the rights holders for the original recording of it. If, say, you want to re-arrange “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” – and possibly change where the solo of the song comes in, or add a verse – you’d have to get permission from the writers, Cuddy and Keelor, possibly via their publisher, Thunder Hawk Music, and from Thunder Hawk itself. The same is true if you want to record a cover version of the song.
Reproducing a Cover Version
Anyone wishing to copy their version of a copyright-protected song – on a pressing of 500 vinyl records, for instance, or an audio streaming service – must first seek the permission of the copyright owner(s) by obtaining a “mechanical” or reproduction rights license. For the same example of “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” you’d once again have to obtain permission for the song only, from its co-writers, possibly via their publisher, and from the publisher itself.
In all of the above cases, there are third-party services that can license songs on your behalf, for you to cover; but ultimately, permission must always be obtained from the copyright owners in the end – whether you yourself obtain it, or a third-party company obtains it for you. And you should always check thoroughly to ensure that any such company is operating legally and legitimately before engaging with them.
The Canadian term “fair dealing” is similar but not exactly the same as the American term “fair use.” In Canada, it means that copyright isn’t infringed when a part of a work is used for private study, research, education, parody, satire, criticism, review, or news reporting. Fair dealing is a case-by-case assessment, based on factors set out by the Canadian courts. So, for example, if you’re presenting a private seminar about songwriting, it’s possible that you could play “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” to illustrate or teach certain techniques – say, how to craft a great chorus – without having to obtain permission first.
In Canada, a song or composition enters the public domain 70 years after the year of the death of the last surviving writer, composer, lyricist, or author of the work. No fees are typically due if the song or composition in a performance are public domain. So, 70 years after the last surviving composer of “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” passes away – whether Jim Cuddy or Greg Keelor – the song will be in the public domain, and can then be recorded without any permission required.
For answers to other frequently asked questions about copyright, and how SOCAN works, have a look at our FAQs.