Legal question: upload of covers/improvisations on soundcloud


I have a question regarding the upload of songs to soundcloud and possible legal problems.
Recently I recorded some music including jazz standards like Autumn Leaves or the Prelude in D by Bach.
There are many uploads of these particular songs on soundcloud already, so I guess there won't be a problem if I add another version.
But for future purposes I wonder:
Is there some sort of database where I can check which songs are accepted as covers and which can or already have caused trouble?
It'd fairly simple to make sure you are in the clear. Google the song, find the composer and see if they have been dead more than 70 years - in most, but not all territories this is the decider. So George Gershwin's music is OK, but his brother's words are not. In general. As in if it says words AND music and one is +70 yrs dead, and the other +69 years, you have issues.

If they are less than that 70yrs, then their work is still within copyright, so you move to stage 2 of complication. Youtube, identify music and they get any royalties youtube generate, but they don't take your music down unless the rights holders and their agents have a bee in their bonnet. Some Beatles stuff and other material by people who have strong feelings - simply refuse to allow the work to be used at any cost - so these people get youtube soundcloud and others to remove them completely. Youtube's copyright strike.

Just determine the 'owner' and fire away. Some are lost in time - others absolutely not!

If you follow the chain for Autumn Leaves, you find the original composer was Jospeh Kosma - and he died in 1969 - it's 100% NOT in the public domain, but one of those songs covered and adapted so much that it's treated like it is - but the family of the writer could fight for their rights but they don't seem to - maybe the CD income from big names is enough for them. The few dollars your version might earn on the streaming platforms probably don't worry them, and in fairness, many arrangments are quite distant from his original. ASltered melody, altered chords, different arrangement etc. However - you need a licence in some parts of the world. Here in the UK, you 100% need a licence for CDs, DVDs, records etc - but streaming services in the UK seem separate. Streaming from the UK to the US apparently does need a licence - but getting one yourself is complicated. However - the shysters at Distrokid, who I hate with a passion will happily get you a worldwide licence and distribute your music worldwide, simply - and you get paid too. They have a habit of dumping people when their sales creep up - so take care. I'd suggest them for covers, but not for your own work.
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In the states, large streamers like SoundCloud are now required to identify and pay royalties for covers. (Streaming rates were still TBD when I checked probably a year ago - the wheels turn slowly.) So, in general, you no longer have to purchase "mechanical rights" for your streams on a site like that. (You do still need to purchase rights for a CD, and there are a lot of services that can do that.)

It's fair to say that while you *should* have been purchasing rights for streams of covers on SoundCloud, the overwhelming majority of folks never did that, which is why the laws are changing.

The only choice you really have is to do what you have already tried, i.e., see if a song cover has already been posted a lot. If it has, it's probably Ok. If it has not, and it's not something obscure, then you might want to do the kind of checking @rob aylestone suggests.

BUT, in general, you cannot determine if a specific copyright holder has not agreed to allow their IP to be used in that fashion. YouTube is the best example of one that's been negotiating and paying for the covers published there, where probably something like 98% were done without obtaining the rights. When you do that you see a "Copyright Claim" notice in your YouTube page. You didn't pay anything, but YT's scanning/checking/AI stuff identified it and as a result some publisher/copyright owner is getting their $.02 for every 10,000 plays or whatever the rate is. It adds up, I guess. The one catch is that not every copyright holder has agreed to this, i.e., YT doesn't have a negotiated stream payment rate deal with them, and if you publish a cover without specifically obtaining the rights (which they likely will not sell or grant), then YouTube receives a "take down" letter and you get a "copyright strike". They just recently started a process where they will pre-scan your video before publishing, and not publish it, possibly saving you the strike (3 strikes and your channel is shut down), HOWEVER, they cannot predict that your particular cover still won't cause a letter to be generated, e.g., if you do some horrible parody that somehow offends someone, or maybe they just changed their mind, or the copyright was transferred and the new owner has different plans. I have not heard that SoundCloud ever did the "strike" thing, but no doubt they have removed some covers, though I never had a problem.
Alright, thanks for your answers. That was indeed helpful. (y)
In the future I will check if a) other people already uploaded covers of that song without problems and b) the composer died 70+ years ago.
Just to be on the safe side.
Copyright strikes in YouTube land are not good but they seem rare now as taking the ad money is a better solution. In my case I had issues with distrokid but they continued to collect YouTube revenue but it took ages to get my copyright back, I had to dispute nearly a hundred tracks. I also had Sony bmg claim one of my tracks on YouTube. One I wrote and recorded! A stream on Spotify is worth about $0.002 cents at the moment but YouTube of course is based on quantities of people and quantities of streams. It’s difficult to make money but a few people still buy music on iTunes and that’s always nice.
Alright, thanks for your answers. That was indeed helpful. (y)
In the future I will check if a) other people already uploaded covers of that song without problems and b) the composer died 70+ years ago.
Just to be on the safe side.
Well, it's actually when the original copyright expired that might matter, so date-of-death is generally not that relevant (here). I had a copyright claim on stuff written by a composer dead for a hundred years, because there can be new copyrights issued for arrangements, and all kinds of little tweaks.

If you are not monetizing your stream in any way, these things shouldn't bother you much, though I believe it can result in more ads being inserted (the streamer has to pay the copyright claimant somehow). It's only when you care about collecting those fractional pennies that it is worth contesting, or going the route of registering a copyright on your own arrangement and/or performance.

I do wish it was obvious and clear when you needed to do what, but it is not, and as I think I mentioned elsewhere, the publishers have the lawyers, guns and money to keep the dollars flowing their way. Best get lawyered up (if you intend to monetize covers), at least to start, because there's no book that has kept up with the changes, AFAIK. (There was a guy on another forum that did understand this stuff, and he'd promised an update after all the 2019 changes took effect, but he hasn't followed through, unfortunately. There may be others, but most everybody has their hand out when you get serious about this stuff, at least IMHO.)
I have uploaded covers. They may come after me for their share of the zero dollars my cover generated.

Honestly, if you are not making any money off the song, nobody gives much of a shit about an obscure cover by an unknown person who isn't even on the music radar.
I'm rather pleased because Spotify have got our account mixed up with a fairly high profile musician from the US - we're in the UK. Type in the artiste name and mixed up with our releases is the other guy. I'm now starting to get his stats on his new releases too, and they're not hugely better than mine, and he's not making huge amount of money either!

Jimistone - sadly, it doesn't work like that now Shazam is owned by the people who host music. It's not terminal, but a few things can happen. The least concerning is they monetise your YouTube or other bistro platform and people get ads and the artiste or their record company get the money. Next worst is they remove your music, and the real worst is they remove your account. If you have copyright issues - you can appeal, but they warn you Sony and the other big ones could cost you lots of money off you lose.

In 99% of the cases the result is simply they monetise your product and you get nothing - which often we don't care about. However - if you released something, and it got picked up on a streaming service and it had more than 5 million streams, and then somebody stole your money, would that be fair even if you had a proper legit worldwide licence and the original artiste would have got 50% of the money? Rights are easy to get, and damn easy to lose!
I've posted quite a few covers on my YT channel. None have been removed. Perhaps as many as half aren't recognized and monetized for the rights owners. It makes no difference to me because I don't have enough followers or views for my channel to be monetized.