Jacquees vs Ella Mai - How to Legally Make Cover Songs


In case you missed the buzz on Twitter last week. The internet exploded when Jacquees’ cover of “Trip” by Ella Mai was removed from Soundcloud and Youtube. While the internet decided it was a hater move on the part of Ella Mai, her label made it clear it was business related and she had no say in the matter.

A better description is that it was a LEGAL matter. As T-Pain pointed out you CANNOT monetize material that does not belong to you. In simple words that is THEFT in legal terms it is copyright infringement.

So how do artists cover other people’s songs all the time and how was THIS different?

First you need to understand song ownership. The actual song your ear hears is called the Master recording and is likely owned by the record label.

In order to reproduce a cover of the sound recording all you need to do is request what is called a mechanical license which by law MUST be given to you and only costs 9.1 cents. (Harry Fox grants these licenses)

So now with said mechanical license you can sing and cover your little heart out….but obviously someone dropped the ball on the 9cent license and is why Jacquees’ cover was likely removed from SoundCloud.

BUT the music video is where things actually went really wrong.

Once you combine a sound recording with a visual like Jacquees did to make this whole ass music video you need what is called a SYNC LICENSE to synchronize music and words with a video.

Permission to do THAT my friends can only be given by the songwriter and producer whose rights are enforced by what is called a Publisher. The Publisher can or cannot at their own discretion give permission and also sets their own price.

In this case Ella Mai had yet to even release her own video to the single. So it is a very high likelihood the publisher would have said no even if Jacquees’ team had gone through the appropriate steps and is 9 times out of 10 why the PUBLISHER likely at the behest of the label had Jacquees’ version removed from YouTube.

“Why are there millions of covers on youtube that don’t get pulled down just like this?”

Great question!

Just because you can legally do something does not mean a Music Label or Publisher will waste the time or money on having lawyers pull down a song that will get at best a few thousand streams or views.

(Keep in mind it takes about 1 Million views to make $1,000 on YouTube)

Where the enforcement become worthwhile is when an individual stands to generate significant revenue at the expense of the copyright owners which in this case at the point it was taken down Jacquees version he generated millions of streams and views.

CHART VIA   The Trichordist

CHART VIA The Trichordist

Another determining factor which will be another post at another time is the impact to the brand by having a “knock-off” or “cover” in the market at the same time you are trying to establish your brand.

As a new artist Ella Mai’s team may have felt that the impact to her brand by having a cover compete in the same genre with a similar fan base was worth the enforcement.

(By contrast Joe covering Adele’s Hello in a different genre with a different fan base likely would not have been a concern for Adele’s team in the even Joe didn’t get a mechanical license)

At the end of the day this is really a learning lesson for Jacquees’ team seeing that he’s largely built his career off of cover songs. Someone should have known this process and at minimum gotten the mechanical license for it to stay on SoundCloud and not have even wasted the time or money invested in what looked like a nice visual for a song you knew you didn’t have the sync rights for.

This is also why it’s always best to include your lawyer in with your business team to help avoid scenarios like this where it seems like Jacquees and Ella had a good relationship and he would like to work with her again in the future. Jacquees you know where I’m at if you need work done in the future. :)

Drop a mic emoji in the comments if you would like to see more celeb related law content like this on the blog!