Music copyrights – how to keep it all straight

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With our state opening up again and more and more people getting out to enjoy the lakes, restaurants, and all that summer in Minnesota has to offer, people are trying to get back to business as usual. Businesses in turn are creating their state-mandated plans to keep employees and customers safe: hanging plexiglass, developing masking policies, and marking social distance boundaries around the premises. As part of their reopening plans, businesses—and especially restaurants and bars—who plan to offer live or recorded music as an entertainment option for their patrons need to make sure that their performance rights licenses are squared away.

Too many businesses do not realize that when they play recorded music in the business or hire a band to play on their premises, it is the business’s responsibility to obtain the performance rights for the songs that the band is playing. It can be a costly mistake, and obtaining the rights to the music is relatively simple.

Most major artists’ performance rights are handled by one of a few major music clearing houses. ASCAP (the Association of Composers Authors and Publishers), SESAC (the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers), and BMI (Broadcast Music, Incorporated)are the major three, though there are others that might need to be considered. These organizations offer “blanket licenses” which mean that for single fee you can use music by any song writer or performer in their “catalog. “Depending on the music you are using, you may need a license from any one or more organization. The cost of each license is determined by a number of factors, including:

  • The type of business,
  • The square footage of the business,
  • The type of sound system used and the number of speakers,
  • The number of nights per week when live music will be performed.

A business does not need a license from all three, but with only one license the business must be much more proactive about the music that is being played or performed. That could include strong contract language with performing artists and working with bands in advance to make sure set lists comply with the license that the establishment owns.

If you have questions about copyright concerns, COVID compliance, or any other issues that are facing your business, do not hesitate to call us. Let us guide you through these complicated times and get you back to running your business.

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