So What's the Big Deal?
There are plenty of reasons why it’s time to ditch the iPod as the main source of in store music or any other public interfacing business ASAP, but music licensing is one that just might speak the loudest.
Playing Music from Spotify, Pandora, or other personal devices like iPods is illegal in most circumstances.
Simply put, failing to obtain licensing for your in store music is a major copyright infringement. Not only is it not legal in most instances, it’s also an offense that can wreak serious havoc on your bank account. We’re not talking about a couple of hundred dollars. We’re talking upwards of thousands in some cases. Lawsuits in regards to use of music content without a license has been in the light of media for some time now.
What you need to know about in store music and music for business licensing
A little background information
Most songs and artists are registered with Performing Rights Organizations. These groups, also referred to as PRO groups, work to collect income on behalf of songwriters, performers, and music publishers. You may have heard of groups like ASCAP and BMI; these are the major PRO groups, and where the bulk of music content is registered through. This is where obtaining a license is necessary, as the music registered with these organization is also copyrighted.
So I can’t just play radio? Why does my in-store music have to be licensed? Why should I pay for it?
We’re glad you asked! Everything you need to know about copyright law is all within a little thing called Title 17 of US Copyright Law. Actually, it’s a whopping 366 pages. It’s a lot of text, so we’ve broken down the information into the pieces you need to understand. If you feel like a nice long read, the PDF is avialable online, here
What does it all mean?
Under copyright law in relation to public performance, a copyright holder is allowed to control when a work, for example music, is performed publicly. Therefore, use of a musical piece of work without permission, or a license from the copyright holder is a violation of the public performance right under the Copyright Act and is considered willful infringement. Basically, you can’t use an artist’s work in a public space without paying them for the rights to do so.
What’s a public performance?
Public performances are considered to be public when the work is performed or played in a “place open to the public or at a place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances are gathered.” This includes music played in stores, restaurants, or any other businesses, as well as works transmitted by radio and television.
What’s Willful Infringement?
"Willful" infringement of the Copyright Act done for purposes of commercial or financial gain is a federal crime and is punishable as a felony, carrying a maximum sentence of up to five years in jail and/or a $250,000 fine. Even inadvertent infringers are subject to substantial civil damages, ranging from $500 to $20,000 for each illegal performance/showing/etc.
How do I Get in Compliance?
One of the easiest and most affordable ways to get in compliance is through an in store music provider, and getting started is quick and easy. Music providers take care of the music licensing and fees charged by PROs, so you don’t have to worry about hefty fees and lawsuits. In addition, licensed music providers offer support, setup, installation, branded content, and more usually for a low monthly rate. The business music providers pay the licensing fees to major PRO groups so you don’t have to worry about your coverage, and you’ll have access to hours upon hours of great music for your business!
Like most rules, there are a few exceptions and several are placed forth by The Fairness in Music Licensing Act. Some of the exceptions include:
- For restaurant and bar businesses, it’s okay to play music without a license so long as the establishment is under 3,750 square feet.
- For retail businesses, it’s alright to play music without a licenses so long as the establishment is under 2,000 square feet.
- Public places using no more than four speakers that play the radio are exempt from paying licensing fees for playing music for their customers.
- If a business charges admission, it is likely a licensing fee is required
- If you're not sure...ask!