A cover song is a new performance or recording of a previously recorded, commercially released song by someone other than the original artist or composer.
Under U.S. copyright law, musicians have the right to record a version of someone else’s previously recorded song, whether it’s the music alone or the music with lyrics.
The right to create derivative works belongs exclusively to the original author or copyright owner so a cover tune with performances by other musicians is considered a variation of the original.
To record a version of someone else’s song, generally a “mechanical license” is required, whereby the recording artist pays a standard royalty to the original author or copyright holder.
Mechanical licenses are obtained through organizations such as the Harry Fox Agency, and do not require any permission from the original author.
Live performances of copyrighted songs are typically obtained through performing rights
organizations such as ASCAP or BMI.