Music copyright issues

I recently received an email from a gentleman who had a business idea which involved creating parodies of songs.

His question was about the legalities of doing this – a copyright minefield if you don’t get the music and permissions right!

Here’s his question (and my answer below):

Hi Kenny
For a few years now, my wife and I have been composing new lyrics to
well-known songs, and using backing tracks from companies like yourselves
to give a performance to a friend or relative at their special birthday or
anniversary. We print the words off to distribute among the guests or put
them on a screen, and print off and frame the song as a keepsake. The
songs we have done have been the highlight of the celebrations, because
they have been well known songs, but made entirely personal to the individual
or couple concerned. We find out as much as we can about them, find out their
favourite songs, and then re-write the lyrics to one of them. It occurred to me
that, bearing in mind how enthusiastically these songs have been received,
there would be a market for others like them, provided that:
A – It is legal, or can be made so.
B – The right market can be found. Your website has personalised ‘special song’ sites advertised,
but I don’t think I’ve seen anything that personalises songs to this extent. I don’t want to go to
the trouble of designing a website if it’s a legal non-starter, but what do you think? I’d appreciate
your opinion.

Hi Paul

There are two copyrights attached to every piece of music. One is to the performer and the other is to the writer.

The copyright due to the writer is controlled by the MCPS here in the UK and you can apply for a licence from them to use their members work so that’s not a problem.

Unfortunately, we, MP3 Backing Trax (who are the performs on the backing tracks), will only grant permission to use our backing tracks to singers who are using them to try and promote themselves and make it in the music business.

We wouldn’t grant permission for anyone to resell them or use them to build a profit seeking business (the copyright we hold as the performers of the backing track music states that the backing track can only be used for personal use.

So, the only way to do what you’re intending to do is to create the music entirely yourself (ie not from a backing track) and obtain a licence to use the original authors song from the MCPS (

The Personal Tune link we have on our website is run by one of our employees here at MP3 Backing Trax, Robert, and the songs he sells are entirely his own compositions – music and words, so he holds both copyrights (they are entirely his own work) and therefore he doesn’t need any licences whatsoever.

If you created the words and music to the parodies entirely yourself you wouldn’t need any permissions either.

However, the problem with what you are trying to do is that you are using other peoples work (i.e. the work of the person who has written the song and the musicians who recorded the music you are using for that song) and you therefore cannot use either unless you obtain permission from each…

Hope this helps!



UPDATE – Kenny adds…

Most backing track companies refuse to let you use their backing tracks for any other purposes other than personal use.

Although our licencing is the same as all other backing track companies we at MP3 Backing Trax want to help you get ahead in the music business, so we WILL grant you permission to use our backing tracks at live gigs and to record an album to sell at your gigs, as long as you ask us first and obtain permission.

We WILL NOT grant permission for you to resell our backing tracks or use them in any kind of profit making way.

Remember, intellectual property rights are restricted to the owners and it is not legal (nor is it fair) to profit in any way from someone elses work without obtaining their express permission and compensating them for doing so. Even we, MP3 Backing Trax, have to pay royalties to the original authors for EVERY backing track we sell! No-one is exempt – it’s the law, and the penalties for copyright infringement (music piracy) can include imprisonment.

You have been warned!