YouTube cover versions have gone from being unwelcome to broadly tolerated - and why not?

 

Earlier this year, a band that I play in decided to record a cover version of a TV theme tune, make a video for it and put it online in the hope of attracting some attention. What began as a whimsical idea ended up as a severe administrative headache; I discovered that to do things by the book, it was likely that I'd need to get permission from the publisher of the original song to do so. If I didn't, I'd be participating in what Wired magazine once referred to as "quite possibly the most popular creative art that's against the law".

At the time of that article, it was estimated that 12,000 cover versions were uploaded to YouTube every day – barely any of which were authorised – and you can bet that today it's significantly more than that. Our cover version was a tiny drop in a colossal ocean, but I'm always fearful of the consequences of disobedience so I spent several days getting permission anyway.

The worst punishment you're likely to face for uploading cover versions that violate copyright is to have your YouTube account disabled, but the practice is so widespread that you're unlikely to be chased down and interrogated. Which isn't to say that it doesn't happen; in 2012, a Canadian man's drunken rendition of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" while sitting in the back seat of a police car was removed from YouTube, thanks to an over-zealous publisher.

But some publishers have now come to an arrangement with YouTube whereby videos identified as cover versions (using clever software that analyses melodic patterns) are allowed to stay up, with a proportion of advertising revenue going to that publisher. Which seems fair enough. That it remains a criminal offence feels somewhat absurd.

In a few short years, these cover versions have gone from being unwelcome to broadly tolerated, but there are signs that they might now be encouraged. And why not? They're born out of enthusiasm and creative spirit, they serve to publicise the song and usually inflict no commercial damage.

A couple of months ago, the defunct US metal band Pantera launched a competition to publicise a 20th anniversary reissue of their most popular album, requesting cover versions to be uploaded to YouTube. More significant, perhaps, is the launch of an app called Hook'd, by the American classical pianist Robert Taub. Combining the spirit of karaoke and X Factor with the click'n'share of social media, Hook'd lets you sing along to original backing tracks, film the performance and instantly upload your new version of a pop classic.

The catalogue is currently pretty small (tracks by the Ramones and B52s sit uncomfortably alongside others by Christina Perri and Lykke Li) but will soon expand. It's a pretty clever repurposing of the vocal-less versions of tracks originally made for artists' TV performances; they're now being resold to fans who want to sing and show off.

Of course, Hook'd offers little flexibility, and it's clear where the control lies. These are authorised cover versions where every element except vocals is pre-determined, where you pay for the privilege of singing an entire song to camera and surrender the royalties if your version happens to go viral. But it's still significant.

Games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero have long demonstrated that people want to be part of the music as much as they want to listen to it, and Hook'd represents a recognition that our own versions of popular tunes, as misshapen and unprofessional as they may be, don't compromise the integrity of the original one iota. Indeed, far from being a nuisance, they might actually have some worth.

Twitter.com/rhodri

Read more: Most viewed YouTube videos
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?