The information contained herein is furnished solely to
assist you in exercising your own judgment. This information should not be
considered as an endorsement or a recommendation of any licensing agency.
The copyright law establishes the principle that copyrighted
material (including music licensing) is property and no one can use someone
else’s property without the permission of the owner. To protect this property
right, the law gives copyright owners the right to license any performance of
their work, with only a few exceptions.
Businesses that feature performances of copyrighted music –
whether performed by live musicians, digital recordings, record, tape player,
radio, video or other media – must obtain permission to use the music. Usually,
this involves paying a fee.
Permission may be obtained directly from the composer,
author or publisher. Permission or licensing might also be obtained from
independent licensing agencies or other authorized representatives.
The three largest licensing agencies are American Society of
Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI)
Businesses that feature background music on radios, tapes or
other systems, as well as those that offer live band performances and stage
shows may be approached by representatives of individual licensing agencies and
asked to pay a licensing fee in order to use the music. Since not all works or
performances are handled by the same licensing agency, it may be necessary to
pay fees to different agencies to cover all of the material used in the place
While some businesses object to this expense, the collection
of licensing fees is legal, and paying fees to licensing agencies may be the
most practical way to fulfill the copyright obligation. Licensing fees vary
widely among different kinds of users. They are often based on the size of the
facility, as well as the number and kind of performances offered.
Violations of the copyright law may be expensive. The law
provides for civil remedies including an injunction against further
infringements and damages. The court may also award court costs and attorney’s
fees. In addition, criminal penalties may also be assessed against persons who
infringe a copyright willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or
private financial gain.
When approached to pay licensing fees, owners of businesses
may consider consulting with a private attorney to establish that they are
actually using copyrighted material and that they are legally required to pay
for its use.