Are local music bands violating copyrights?


When local bands play songs made famous by recognizeable artists, does that violate copyrights on the lyrics, music or the recording artist's performance and recording?

If so, why does it appear to go without consequences? Is it just too small, or do the artists (and everybody else involved with the originals) just accept it because it might help promote the songs?

Would these copyrights likely be enforced if another well-known artist recorded a recently popular song and started making some real money with it?


asked Apr 14 '13 at 21:25
Patrick Moloney
126 points

2 Answers


This part of copyright law is called "performance rights." In sum, it is copyright infringement to publicly perform another person's song. The wikipedia article has a good explanation.

It isn't practical to enforce this for performances in small venues, but as the performance is larger and/or more widely well you known, you should expect to get a nastygram from a copyright lawyer if you haven't received permission in advance.

answered Apr 14 '13 at 23:16
1,936 points
  • How big would the damages be for just ignoring all copyright rights? – Patrick Moloney 7 years ago
  • @PatrickMoloney, there are too many variables to provide any answer here. – Kekito 7 years ago
  • @PatrickMoloney Damages can range from $200 to $150K per infringement per statute. $30K is the normal limit, $150K is for willful infringement. There are a wide variety of exemptions. See section 110 - Powered 7 years ago
  • The fact that there are 110 sections probably tells the story. Sounds like the local bar bands have it as well figured out as the lawyers and politicians on this one. Whatever the situation is, I don't think they're going to shut down every bar band in the country. Just thought I'd ask! – Patrick Moloney 7 years ago


Yes and no. It's a grey area without a lot of case law. A cover band that earns it's money solely based on another artist is still grey because they can be considered a parody act, but they won't always be.

There is common licensing available to venues and artists that cover a wide variety of music and it's pretty inexpensive. But even if you do have that licensing in place, not all artists will be covered, nor all songs from all artists.

I would be concerned if any of the following were taking place:

1) The band or the venue's revenue was centered around cover work.

2) The revenue is significant.

3) The audience is significant.

4) Media coverage is present.

5) Advertising is present that specifically mentions work or artists to be covered.

answered Apr 14 '13 at 21:41
Turtle Powered
129 points
  • While there is a lot of grey area in copyright law in general, this issue is relatively clear. – Kekito 7 years ago
  • @Kekito - it is far from clear. You'll notice on your wikipedia page that "citation is needed" is all over the place. Square footage is a factor. The kind of business is a factor. Whether a stereo is used is a factor. Those are surface issues that affect whether you *could* be affected. Whether or not a particular performance is infringement falls under the same copyright issues as every other work. The length of the performance, the accuracy of the performance, the purpose of the performance, etc. can all come into play once a suit is initiated. What BMI says is not the law. – Turtle Powered 7 years ago
  • My general observation is that Most bands play only other peoples work. It seems this is probably too small to chase. Of course, there are a lot of hungry lawyers. But what do you mean by a cover band - one that plays only one performer's or group's work? And is there a "parody" exception for that? – Patrick Moloney 7 years ago
  • TurtlePowered, if you take that point of view then all law is a gray area! Some areas of law are relatively clear (like this one), and others are completely unclear (like fair use). – Kekito 7 years ago

Your Answer

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • • Bullets
  • 1. Numbers
  • Quote
Not the answer you're looking for? Ask your own question or browse other questions in these topics: