Playing Music Does Not Come Free: A Copyright Condition

Imagine going to a fitness class without music. How motivated would you be? How fun would a local bar be without a band or DJ to dance the night away? When visiting a local bar, restaurant, clothing store, fitness center, grocery, coffee shop, and other venues, we often hear music playing, even if it is subconscious. Imagine what life would be like without music? If we did not realize it before, we would feel like something was missing if there wasn’t background music in places where we just expect it to be playing. However, playing music doesn’t come free.

In many cases, listening to music is as simple as turning on a radio or television. However, every time you hear music, someone is paying to play that music. Whether it is a broadcaster or a venue, it, in most cases, must pay a royalty to the copyright owner if the music is protected by a copyright. This is because when a broadcaster or a venue plays copyrighted music, that particular business is using someone else’s intellectual property. Therefore, it must pay the people who created the music a fee. Typically, broadcasters and venues pay a blanket licensing fee that covers all music activities, such as live bands, karaoke, DJs, and more.

If a broadcaster or venue does not pay the proper licensing fees, then it may be infringing on the copyrights associated with specific songs. Musicians copyright their music to protect their work. Otherwise, anyone could take a song and claim it as his own and make money from it. Essentially, playing music in a public setting without proper licensing is the same as stealing. The penalty for such a crime can range from $750 to as much as $150,000, for each instance music is played without a license!

As you can see, the penalty for playing music without a proper license could cause a venue to go out of business, let alone deal with the troubles associated with a lawsuit. Therefore, it would be worth it for businesses to pay the licensing fee. Three organizations implement these licenses. They are called performing rights organizations (PROs): ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. They do not hesitate to fine even the smallest venues. In fact, they file hundreds of lawsuits annually. Therefore, it is in the best interest for businesses to properly license music to benefit both themselves and the creators.

Music is a huge draw for a variety of reasons and finds its home in a plethora of settings. For most people, paying for music is likely a small sacrifice compared to the benefits.