A group decides to cover a protected piece of music. In this example, lets say "Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen".

  • Is the act of playing this song violate any copyright law?
  • Does it make a difference if they make money off playing a cover?
  • This answer could be improved by specifically asking if this is a live performance and/or recorded. Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 22:28
  • You need a license to perform copyrighted music in public. See ascap.com/help/ascap-licensing
    – Hilmar
    Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 16:40

2 Answers 2


Unless they have permission or pay the required royalty: yes.

If they are playing it for personal entertainment or at a private function then they can make a fair use/dealing defence.

  • This answer should include a source(s) and possibly some case history. Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 22:17

There are generally two copyrights for a song:

  1. First, the copyright on the composition (song in the abstract).
  2. Second, the copyright on the actual performance of the song.

If you're playing a cover, then the copyright on the original performance doesn't apply, but there's still the copyright on the composition. You are generally allowed to cover a song without permission of the writer, as long as you pay a rate set by statute. This is known as "compulsory license": https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-a-compulsory-license-in-music-2460357

  • Want to highlight that the article states the compulsory license is "A compulsory license lets a musician record (and sell) a rendition of a previously recorded song" and "a compulsory license only applies to music that is distributed to the public to be listened to by the end user." Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 22:27

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