Why Taylor Swift May Soon Be Able to Stop Cover Songs on Spotify Too

The U.S. Copyright Office proposes a change that Prince will definitely love and those searching  for "When Doves Cry" covers will probably hate.
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On Thursday morning, the U.S. Copyright Office released a 245-page review of the music licensing regime with some bold proposals. It's not beach reading season, though, so it's understandable why the tome hasn't triggered a mass frenzy just yet. But wait! The government has just suggested a change that would make it possible for Taylor Swift not only to forbid her own works from appearing on Spotify, but stop those covering her there (see: this duo) too.

Many artists are quite fine with cover versions of their songs, but not all. Some might want more money, while others are just philosophical. Perhaps the most famous anti-cover control freak is Prince, who stirred up a bit of discussion a few years ago by saying, "A lot of times, people think I'm doing Sinead O'Connor's song or Chaka Khan's song when in fact I wrote those songs."

Well, the U.S. Copyright Office has now basically recommended that Prince should be able to stop cover versions of his songs from being posted on YouTube or being sold on iTunes.

The name of the game is Section 115(a)(2) of the U.S. Copyright Act, which provides a compulsory license for those making cover versions. The U.S. Copyright Office wants to shake up Section 115 — and, all the way on page 166 of the report, it attempts to offer a compromise to those who have heard just too many versions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallellujah."

Specifically, the Copyright Office recommends that songwriters or their publishers still won't be able to stop cover songs in certain formats — presumably physical compact discs, broadcast radio and live concerts — but could stop covers from being posted on interactive (otherwise known as on-demand) sites or download sites. (The proposal might also give a non-interactive site like Pandora one advantage over Spotify.)

Here's what the Copyright Office writes:

"With respect to cover recordings, the Office recommends an approach whereby those who seek to reā€record songs could still obtain a license to do so, including in physical formats. But the dissemination of such recordings for interactive new media uses, as well as in the form of downloads, would be subject to the publisher’s ability to opt out of the compulsory regime. Thus, a publisher’s choice to negotiate interactive streaming and DPD rights for its catalog of songs would include the ability to authorize the dissemination of cover recordings by those means. Or, put another way, where the publisher had opted out, someone who produced a cover recording would need to obtain a voluntary license to post the song on an interactive streaming or download service (just as would someone who wished to offer streams or downloads of the original recording of that work)."

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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