Do you own a restaurant? Retail store? Dance studio? Do you want to play music in your place of business? If so, you’ll need to secure public performance rights as to the music you intend to play through what are called “performing rights organizations” or “PROs.” Obtaining the rights to do this from every single artist as to each particular song would be virtually impossible for business owners, so public performance rights licensing is now primarily handled by two major PROs: ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated). Each of these companies has a catalog of around 4,000,000 songs, and purchasing what is known as a “blanket license” will let you play anything from the corresponding repertoire (or catalog of songs) of the business from which you purchase the license. You as a licensee pay ASCAP and BMI for your use, and they divide up the fees you pay for your license among all the rights owners with work in their respective repertoires.
A visit to either company’s site (ASCAP – here, BMI – here) allows you to easily search their respective catalogs of music to help you better determine which company’s music selections may suit your need.
Anyone performing music publicly that is not their own must to pay for that public performance. Pursuant to Title 17 of the U.S. Code, copyright exists in original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical and other creative works fixed in a tangible medium of expression. The copyright owner is afforded exclusive rights, including the right to copy, distribute, and publicly perform the work. Registration of the work is not required to allow the owner to claim a copyright interest, although it is highly recommended for the additional protections it affords such as increasing recoverable damages and allowing the copyright owner to initiate a lawsuit for infringement. ASCAP and BMI fines resulting from playing licensable music without a license are very steep, and the threat letters they send are very real threats, though in certain industries there may be a common misconception to the contrary (the “if I throw it away, I never got it” tactic is not recommended!). Federal penalties for using music without permission – which is not set by the PRO – can be extremely high with each unauthorized use entitling copyright owners to damages between $750 and $30,000 per unauthorized use, or more if the infringement is found to be willful. If ASCAP or BMI threatens to approach you for fines or sue you for unlicensed use, it is best to resolve the fines and obtain the license moving forward. Very often, PROs like ASCAP and BMI are tipped off by competitors within the same industry who learn a particular business does not have the proper licensing.
The type of licensing you will need to secure is a function of the use you envision. ASCAP and BMI do not license the right to record music or print copies of musical works. The license also does not give you the right to cut or rearrange the music – you must play the song in its entirety as provided for by the license. Even using music to place a customer on hold and transmit music via your telephone lines constitutes a public performance for which you will need to obtain a license. Playing music you purchased and play in your place of business on your iPod or other device also constitutes a public performance that must be licensed. Annual rates depends on the type of business and the manner in which the music is performed, so you will need to work with an ASCAP or BMI representative for specific terms of your intended use. Depending on the particular music you’d like to play, you may need to secure licenses from both ASCAP and BMI.
Bottom line – if you’re going to be playing music in your business in Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Radford, Roanoke, or elsewhere in Virginia, The Creekmore Law Firm PC can help you look into obtaining the proper licensing to avoid the fines and legal fees that come when someone realizes – they’re playing my song!
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