chords sheet on piano tiles

FAQ- Cover Songs and Mechanical Rights

Recording a cover song (remake) requires that the Artist clear the song(s) by obtaining a Limited Mechanical License to record and release the remakes under the US Copyright Act 115.   Assuming their author(s), aka rights owners, or their assigns (publishers), are still in existence, you will need to secure a Limited Mechanical License.  This can be done in one of two ways:

  1. Request a voluntary Limited Mechanical License for a fixed number of CDs, vinyl, or permanent downloads from the publisher in writing, and agree to pay the appropriate license fees upfront.
  2. Serve a Notice of Intention (NOI) to use the music works under the compulsory Mechanical Licensing provisions of the act, and pay royalties to the rights owner on a monthly basis with a statement.

The Copyright Office does have a provision under Act 115 that if the author or publisher is no longer reachable by mail, phone or email, a Notice of Intention for Compulsory Use may be filed directly with the Copyright Office for publication, and the royalties are held in escrow for two years.  The online filing fee is currently $65! See rate sheet here.

Old songs and recordings may be public domain (PD) once the statutory time has been reached. The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998 set the following terms for Copyrighted Works:

  • Individual’s Life of the last remaining artist plus 70 years
  • Corporate Authorship is 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication (whichever is shorter)
  • Works published before January 1, 1978 are protected for 95 years from their publication date.

    Works made in 1923 or afterwards will not enter the public domain until 2019 or after

Unfortunately, if you do not issue the NOI and secure the license for a non-PD song from a rights owner, then you can not record and release the song in any form without risk of being sued.


  • Assuming sheet music was used to learn and play the songs, a thorough copyright search is needed.
  • If copyrights exist, licensing from the copyright owner is required.  The copyright office search must be performed.
  • Perform a public domain (PD) search
  • Performance Rights Organization (PRO) registration searches must be done:
  • License each song (right granted from author, publisher, or label)
    • A Notice of Intent (NOI) document served on copyright owners in order to comply with Compulsory Licensing under Section 115 of the Copyright Act, or
    • Negotiate a  Voluntary License with the right’s owner or publisher for a negotiated rate and terms, or
    • Request A voluntary Limited Mechanical License for a fixed number of mechanicals and pre-pay for the fixed number of licensed units rather than report monthly sales.
    • Do pay the Rights’s Owner or publisher mechanical license royalties in any case.
  • Record, engineer, and master the recordings
  • Assignment using ISRC and UPC codes.
  • Distribute as CD’s, vinyl records, and digital downloads
  • Register the remake cover song with a PRO so you can also receive royalties.

Once these clearances are successfully completed, you can lawfully record the cover songs.  Once recorded, engineered and mastered,  register the new music works (songs) on a PRO (We are affiliated with ASCAP and BMI).

Winding Way Music publishing can provide any or all of these services for a reasonable fee under a Publishing, Producers and Master and Sync Representation agreements.

When you distribute as CDs, vinyl (yes vinyl) or digital downloads, Mechanical Royalties are paid to the original author of the song.  The new artist(s) and their label share the net revenue on the distribution/sales of the recordings after deducting processing  fees and the License royalties paid to the original rights holder.

As the creator of the new cover song master you too are entitled to receive Mechanical Royalties from the use of the new recording.

Disclaimer: The information presented here is without warranty and provided to help explain the process only.  Music rights licensing is complicated, consult a publishing professional and attorney before producing and publishing any music.

Artists Advocates