Can a songwriter prevent other musicians from recording cover versions of the songwriter's original compositions?
The short answer, is no. To begin, it's important to first distinguish between the two separate copyrights in music: 1) the copyright in the underlying composition; and 2) the copyright in the actual sound recording. Although artists can refuse to license the use of their recordings, they cannot prevent others from recording cover versions of the underlying compositions. Under Section 115 of the Copyright Act, the licensing of copyrighted compositions is compulsory, as long as the artist recording the cover pays the original artist a mechanical license fee.
However, if the original songwriter refuses to grant a license, the Copyright Act allows the covering artist to obtain a compulsory mechanical license, provided that the covering artist gives the original songwriter notice of the covering artist's intent to obtain the compulsory license, and pays a mechanical license fee to the original songwriter at the statutory rate.