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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

    £6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

    £40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: .Net / SQL Developer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A skilled .NET developer with e...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Technical Support Engineer - PC/Mac

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company are cur...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links