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In the music industry, many changes have taken place for the past few decades. The industry has re-organized the manner, in which the modern artists and music companies conduct their business. Among such issues, the aspect of songs and/or records covering occupies an important place. The practice of covering has existed for several decades already since it was first invented in the early 1950s (Burgess 128-132). Consequently, each year, several song artists and recording companies have their copyrights infringed by numerous unauthorized copies of their songs produced and distributed to the public without their consent. The core concern of this study is the holistic examination of certain covers with the focus on the ethical, legal, financial, and imaginative issues of the practice.
Examples of the Cover Records
The most common example of the cover recording is ‘You are my sunshine’ that has been re-produced by several artists since its first recording in the 1940s. Among the artists, there were Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, The Mills Brothers, Les Brown and his Orchestra; Bill Haley and His Comets, Ricky Nelson, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Oscar Peterson, Bob Dylan, Ike, and Tina Turner. Another cover samples were created by Pat Boone, who with the assistance of Randy Wood’s Dot Records managed to cover successfully the pieces by Ivory Joe Hunter, The Charms, Fats Domino, The Five Keys, Little Richard, and the El Dorados. Consequently, his versions outperformed the original records by a sizeable margin (Day 85-88).
Later on, The Fontane Sisters covered The Charms’ Hearts of Stone. Gale Storm, in turn, covered I Hear You Knocking originally recorded by Smiley Lewis while Vanilla Ice covered Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie in his song Ice Ice Baby. Georgia Gibbs, in the 1950s, also covered LaVern Baker’s Tweedle Dee. The most recent of such cover records is that of Chan Marshall; she released two albums of the covers The Cover Record and Jukebox in 2000 and 2008 respectively. Additionally, she has presented the covers of The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and Joni Mitchell.
Ethical Implications of the Cover Records
Ethically, covering a person’s song is wrong given that no outright permission is usually sought from the rights holder. In the above examples of cover records, the aggrieved artists suffered from integrity and personality problems given that their songs and identities were stolen; as a result, they received poor or no recognition for the effort that they made. The artists that have adopted and prepared a cover of the other people’s records can also face ethical issues by being branded as practicing piracy in their work. In the modern music industry, the media have often criticized the artists for such activities, as that practice does not befit the integrity and fairness that is needed in the industry so as not to create a difference of interests.
One of the primary reasons of the cover recording was stereotyping; usually, different artists were shadowed due to their cultural, spiritual, and economic background. In such a manner, the black songwriters were deprived of enjoying the benefits and glory for their songs due to the same being covered by the white artists. Nevertheless, the current cover records are considered an honorable initiative as it can give the classic piece of music a new image understandable to the young people.
Legal Implications of Coverings
Legally, covering can be considered an impairment of the right of the original songwriters. Usually, the cover records result in court cases. A perfect example is that of Vanilla Ice against Queen and David Bowie that resulted in an out-of-the court settlement when a call for royalties was made to Bowie. The lawsuits have been created over the samples required from the transcriptions with the legal precedents making it impossible to track a song without giving due recognition to the original owners. Later on, it would be anticipated that the involvement in cover recording would result in the aggrieved persons seeking to modify the available legislation.
However, there are no legal implications of a cover artist altering or covering an original version of the song, given that the same results in a new version of the piece. What is majorly required for the cover artist is to pay royalties to the original artist or the right holders in order to assure that the agreement on the future sales is reached. On the other hand, however, the cover records have resulted in the bootleg practice that has examined the cost increase in the production of unauthorized copies of the original song; consequently, its effect has been the engagement of the governing body in the long-standing copyright statutes.
In the case that the original songwriter is not the rights holder of the song, it is unlikely that he/she will engage the cover artists in any legal fights over the issue. Nevertheless, a contra-argument would be more from the ethical than legal perspective. Most people consider that any legal restrictions on the cover recordings in the current world would limit the creativity of the young artists; thus, the vibrant contemporary culture will be affected significantly (Woodford 79-83).
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