Can you copyright a cover of a song? 3 Answers as of November 23, 2010

My band wants to do a cover of a song whose copyright has run out. If our cover has the same lyrics and a very similar melody, will the the cover be our intellectual property? Or because the original song was copyrighted, will we not be able to copyright ours even though their copyright has run out?

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Mark S. Hubert PC
Mark S. Hubert PC | Mark Hubert
Better check on the copyright date of first publication - it lasts for 70 years beyond the death of the artist.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 11/23/2010
Fish & Associates, PC
Fish & Associates, PC | Robert D. Fish
One does not copyright a work. Copyrights are created as soon as an original work is reduced to a tangible medium of expression. One merely registers the copyright that already exists. With that said, yes, the cover images are subject to copyright.

Copyright ownership can be very complicated, especially in musical works. A song may well have different copyright authors in the lyrics, the score, the instrumental performers, the singers, the mixers, the persons involved in selection and arrangement of the individual songs, the cover designers, and so forth. Each of these components can be further complicated to the extent that they are derivative works of someone elses intellectual property.

Are you sure that the previous copyright has "run out"? Currently, copyright lasts for 100 years for "works for hire" and 75 years beyond the life of the author(s) for non-work for hire works.

Please note that we are only providing high level answers. As with all intellectual property matters, a proper answer is heavily fact dependent, and often involves much more complex issue than can be adequately addressed in a short answer. You really owe it to yourself to obtain adequate legal representation.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 11/22/2010
Rhema Law Group
Rhema Law Group | John D. Tran
Yes, you can obtain a copyright on your version of the song. However, the original composition of the song may have its own copyright which you may have to obtain a mechanical license on to use a derivative of it.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 11/22/2010
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