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Is ''cover band'' just another name for ''copycat''?

Attention, Aqua fans: That ”Barbie Girl” CD single you’re buying may not be true-blue. In fact, it may be Velva Blu. In a suspicious new trend, independent labels are issuing cover versions of hard-to-find Top 40 songs. Last month a band called Velva Blu released a knockoff of the oft-sold-out ”Barbie Girl.” ”People in the office heard it but couldn’t find it,” says Paul Klein of Groove Records in Miami, which put out the cover. ”It was a good opportunity.”

New Jersey-based Under the Cover Records has made a cottage industry out of copycats, issuing soundalikes of six songs, including ”One Headlight” by the Waterfalls — not the Wallflowers. ”It’s not to trick people,” says Burt Goldstein, the label’s co-owner. ”What we’re doing is making a [hit song] available as a single.” (None of the six original versions were released as CD singles.)

Shady as this seems, covers are legal as long as the song’s publisher receives a fixed fee — about seven cents for each version of the song sold. Do the covers sell?

According to SoundScan, 19,000 people have bought Under the Cover’s ”Butterfly Kisses” by Carousel, negligible compared with the 2.2 million copies sold of Bob Carlisle’s album. Yet major labels still find the practice irksome. ”Is it a pain? Yeah,” says James Wheeler of Zomba Records, Carlisle’s label. ”But legally, we have no recourse.”