There are two underlying copyrights within a piece of recorded music - the publishing rights and the recording (or master) rights. The publishing rights are the rights to the 'song' - the words, the melody, the lyrics etc. Then there are the recording rights - often controlled by a record company, these are the rights to the actual master recording of the song.
Let's use the song 'White Christmas', written by Irving Berlin as an example. UMPG control the publishing rights to this song. Suppose you wanted to use the Bing Crosby recording of 'White Christmas'. As well as approaching UMPG, you'd need to clear this with Universal Records who own the master recording. Or maybe you decide to use Michael Buble's version. His recording is owned by Warner Records so you'd need their permission. Whichever recording you used, you would still always need the publisher ie. UMPG's permission.
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