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Restaurants sued for playing music without ASCAP/BMI licenses

In recent months, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has sued at least two dozen restaurants around the country for copyright infringement. The claims stem from the restaurants' playing of music without obtaining a license from the performing rights organization.

ASCAP and its competitor BMI (Broadcast Music International) are the two largest American performing rights societies, charged with collecting royalties for songwrites and publishers for “public performances” of songs in their respective catalogs. ASCAP's catalog boasts over 8 Million Songs. a public performance occurs whenever a song is played on the radio, television, or the internet, and most performances (live or recorded) of music in public spaces, such as restaurants.

Both ASCAP and BMI employ investigators to roam the country identifying new restaurants, bars, theme parks or other establishments where music is used. Venue owners are required to purchase a license, typically for a single annual fee based on the size, seating capacity and type of venue.

While many businesses aren't aware of these rules, entertainment attorneys say that suits to enforce these licensing requirements are increasingly common, and ASCAP's senior vice-president Vincent Candilora is quoted in the Seattle Times as saying that the recent lawsuits are intended to spread the word that performing such music without permission is a federal offense.

Although the societies have targetted bars, restaurants and nightclubs, any business can be the target of enforcement actions. More and more, shopkeepers play music in their establishments to entertain customers and set a mood. If unlicensed, doing so can result in a costly lawsuit.

New and established business owners should consider carefully how music is used on their premises and obtain the necessary licenses.

112 Responses to Restaurants sued for playing music without ASCAP/BMI licenses

  1. We have a very small bar/restaurant. So we pay a fee for pandora so that should be ok but once a month we have small 1-2 person bank come and sing. I do not know what type of music or song they will sing ahead of time. Are you stating that we need to pay for a license with each of the PROs, BMI, ASCAP and SESAC annually.

    • Yes. Unless your place is really tiny, you’ll need to get these licenses. The good news is the fees are based on your square footage, seating capacity, and other factors, so they shouldn’t be too costly. They’re blanket licenses, so you don’t have to keep track of the songs, etc.

      Check in with the PROs and find out.

  2. Thanks for shedding some light on this topic. We would like to host a “bring your own vinyl” night at our bar, and spin customer records from just about every genre, date, country, etc. We wouldn’t know exactly what will be played, but can assume a good mix of small market/obscure bands, as well as major label/super groups. Would this require a blanket license in order to cover our butts from the unknown? And once that particular license is obtained we will be able to play ipod/cd/vinyl/mp3/etc safely?

    • While I can’t really offer legal advice here in the comments, I can suggest you contact ASCAP/BMI/SESAC and ask this question of them. (I.e., negotiate a deal to include all formats) I’m not aware of any restriction within the licenses specifying which from kinds of storage media the music may/may not be played. But it’s certainly worth double checking, and making sure you’re covered.

      Bottom line: If there’s a term in a contract that you’re not understanding, either consult a lawyer, or work with the other side to clarify that term IN THE CONTRACT, so there are no later problems.

    • You really need to discuss with the PROs in question and hire a lawyer to give you the specialized advice you require.

  3. Wondering about musicians playing pre- 1922 non copyrighted Irish trad music at a session in a pub. The BMI agent we dealt with was adamant that the pub owner be licensed. She looked at our tune list and said that tunes were copyrighted because someone recorded it. But those recording musicians didn’t write the tunes- the tunes are very very old, with no know composer, and sometimes no know title. Is there any hope? Or will trad sessions just get shut down?

    • If you’re in the US, the Recording doesn’t (currently) carry any public performance right. And, BMI doesn’t collect royalties for recordings anyway. They’re trying to intimidate you.

      You should probably hire a lawyer to respond to them, and perhaps demand that they cease and desist from their misleading, deceptive, and harassing tactics.

      Of course, if there is even one composition in the repertoire that is still protected under copyright, you could be liable for significant infringement damages.

      You should hire a lawyer.

  4. I know I’m pretty late to this discussion but do these regulations apply to clinics/hospital waiting areas?

  5. As a solo guitarist/singer playing cover songs, are there any legal restrictions regarding playing for private house parties for a fee, or tips?


    • Technically, you’re supposed to be licensed by ASCAP/BMI/SESAC. In practice, I think it’s pretty rare.

  6. I am a mobile DJ and spin music at a department store from time to time (Macy’s). Normally, they play their Muzak or whatever satellite service they use, so they are compliant with ASCAP/BMI liscensing. Presumably, it is ok for me to DJ (as long as whatever artist I play are under either of those catalouges.

    Now, what if I want to bring a single flat screen tv and play the music video of those songs? I can’t find any info on music vids.

  7. My Associate told me he has 2 licenses one from BMI and one from ASCAP. Don’t you only need one license ?

    Also he only plays Mexican music.
    Do these licensees still apply ?

    • Each of the performing rights organizations represents certain songwriters, so licenses from all of them are required.

      • we hold a small Mexican Fiesta for 3 – 4 days each summer at
        an outdoor park. We have live performances and then during
        the “down time” play “canned” music. Does require BMI
        and ASCAP Licenses?

        • Yes.. It does. Contact these societies and select the correct license type. They’re very helpful…

  8. Please give me a clear understanding of ASCAP rules for having Direct TV on in the dining room of my restaurant. I have 3 T.V.s and a projector screen. I don’t play any music except at night when I close. Thank you very much.

  9. Are you or have you, or your company and/or affilitaes, ever been employed by BMI or ASCAP to represent them in any manner?

    • No. I’m just an independent lawyer who’s educated and knowledgable about these issues. I represent clients in all areas of the entertainment business, but haven’t represented BMI or ASCAP. I DO represent artists from time to time, and I sometimes represent businesses.

  10. Thanks for your help with this! We’re a small hair salon that’s under 2000 sq ft (1200) and has 4 ceiling speakers. Do we need to be licensed to play music? We seem to fall into maybe/maybe not territory. Do the rules vary for us depending on whether we’re playing CDs, radio, Pandora, etc?

  11. I think the biggest concern in having to purchase a license is does the artist or copyright owner really get paid? I think most people want the artists to get paid if even to encourage them to make more great music. I play music at church and I also perform at local clubs. At the church we are required to submit a list of the songs we play every week so the money gets to the artist who created it. I don’t see how clubs, restaurants can keep track of all the songs played in there place between the radio DJ’s and live music you would need to hire a full time person just to keep track of what songs were played on any given day. To me this is where the real problem lies Ascap and BMI I’m sure are taking in the money but there is no way they could pay all the artists that get played in one day. So there is the racket in this whole debate in a church situation we are only playing a hand full of songs a week. In the clubs We could give a set list to owner many nights the set list changes as we go along but then there is music played in between the sets and throughout the day before we even start who is supposed to keep track of all this. I am all for the artists being paid but don’t tell us this would happen with the current system in place. Fix the system and maybe we could have a better response and willingness to support artists.


  12. If I hire a band and or Karaoke DJ, and the music they play is not word for word or note for note doesn’t that make it their work of art? And that being said, they would be the ones I would need to pay, which I already would be doing? Also, If I hire a cover band and I don’t make any additional money that night, does ASCAP pay me for the loss that their artist caused me? It seems that ASCAP is a way of double, and tripple dipping for payment. Next I suppose I’ll have to pay royalties for those anoiying commercials that play when Im trying to watch TV.

  13. How does a local band subscribe to the proper license to perform 60 “cover” songs 24-50 times per year wherever they find work to perform in restaraunts, bars and in public festivals. While some of these venues already have ASCAP licensing, some smaller coffee shops, restaraunts and the like do not. How does a band make certain that they have their own ASCAP license to perform where they wish in public. How much does such a license cost?

    • Mobil DJs who play private parties public events and clubs should have to pay for a license. $2500.00 to ASCAP and $2500.00 to BMI. They basically are the ones who benefit the most from the original recordings from a monetary stand point and pay nothing to the artist. Musicians are the music they make the music. It is a craft that takes several years to develop. Every artist has to start out in a club to perfect the craft Punishing clubs and restaurants only serves to diminish work opportunities for musicians to develop and aalso make a living. Common sense.. I guess some people now consider DJs musicians .The world is upside down …

      • Technically, either the DJ or the Venue is required to have licenses from the Performign Rights Organizations. In practice, this is hard to police against the DJ, so clubs and restaurants are the logical target.

  14. if a dj is working at a private home party, do they need a license from BMi, Ascap or Sesac?

    also, if a DJ was asked to work a holiday themed “fundraiser” (held in a room at a recreation center ) for a non-profit (where they DJ was not getting paid, and the admission fee was going to non-profit), would DJ or non-profit need a license?

  15. If I hire a karaoke company who already pays for the royalties when they purchase the music why am I required to have the license?

    • You’re required to have a different KIND of license than the karaoke company has. Copyright includes several exclusive rights: (1) the right to make copies, (2) the right to distribute those copies, (3) the right to perform the work in/to the public, (4) the right to display the work in/to the public, and (5) the right to make derivative works.

      The Karaoke company obtains #5, to allow them to make a karaoke recording featuring music and backing vocals without leads, and to insert captioning for the lyrics. They don’t, generally speaking, pay for the right for YOU to perform the work publicly, to your patrons.

      ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC handle licensing for #3… which is the responsibility of the establishment in which the music is performed.

  16. I manage a Gift Shop and we sell CD’s. We play the CD’s so that customers can listen to them. The company we buy them from sends us a Demo so we can play them in our store for our customers. Do we need a license for that?

  17. It seems like this is a matter of opinion of the courts (and $ from lobbyists) to differentiate the use of Art to create an atmosphere. Is it illegal to hang a copy of someone’s painting in your business to help with a visual atmosphere?? probably. If so, then something very wrong is happening with the American copyright industry. You cannot copyright a G chord, or a stroke of a paint brush, or a word for that matter…unless you want art to die off. Which will never happen, artists will evolve and adapt around these laws. Up until now, art has been copied in one way or another in order to preserve it’s legacy; i.e. Folk music. Call me old fashion, but copyrighting Woody Guthries “This Land is Your Land, This Land Is My Land” seems sadly ironic. I wish more people knew about these terrible laws that help make Fat Cats fatter.

    I hope that I dont get sued for writing this.

    • I REALLY sorry that you consider poor struggling musicians as ‘fat cats’. Most of us took many years to pay off college loans the same as you probably did. Then we aren’t guaranteed any employement…any more than anyone else in this great country. Then we create music by writing and performing it and when we try to make a living at it, since that’s what we’re trained to do, we’re called ‘fat cats’. That’s REALLY insulting.

      • I’m a working musician and have never seen a dime from ASCAP. Too small. The only musicians who make any money off the licensing orgs are the big names.

        This kind of policing hurts small musicians because it turns restaurants and clubs away from using music — live or recorded. They can play radio or TV w/out licensing but if they’ve got a solo musician playing originals in the corner, they’re still totally vulnerable to this thuggery.

        I am no longer licensing any of my original music with any of these organizations. They are killing music in this country, and damaging the vast majority of musicians.

  18. Ascap and BMI are why the music industry is the way it is now. It’s sad to think that these companies have the kind of wealth to buy the copy rights for music that they had no part in, so that they can make MORE money by sueing innocent people. The majority of artists want their music to be heard, that’s why they write and create. I hope that the public can find a loophole around these laws because this makes me sick!!

  19. Hello,
    I have a restaurant (1,845 Square fit, 48 person capacity and have 4 speakers).
    Do I have to pay the license?

    • If you have to pay for the food, beverages and other items you provide to customers, why wouldn’t you also pay for music? If you have to pay for the electricity you use to provide light for your customers, why wouldn’t you pay for music?

      • If a bar owner has already purchased the music via the record store or I-Tunes why would they still be required to purchase a license?

        • Different rights are involved.

          Purchasing a copy of a CD or song via iTunes gives you only the right to play the music for PERSONAL use… not as a public performance. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (and the other PROs) administer the rights for public performances in places like bars, restaurants, coffee shops, theatres, etc.

          • It has been decided that radios must be on at all times in order to recieve breaking news and Emergency Broadcasting System announcements. No entity can tell you to turn it off, or charge you to have it on. Sorry.

          • I didn’t mean “had to” be on. I meant could be on, to recieve emergency broadcasts, weather updates news, etc.
            Likewise for TV’s, take out the speaker and turn on the Closed Caption.

          • True enough, but if playing music through a P.A. System, the business is supposed to pay royalties.

      • We as businesses promote these artists to people who have may never heard their music. We already pay them by giving them exposure to increase their sales. It is like advertising for my restaurant. I pay for it. So why wouldn’t it be the same for them? They should pay me for advertising their music, not the other way around, or at least consider it promotion. The music industry is a bunch of crooks.

        • That argument doesn’t fly. Playing music in a restaurant, club, or whatever isn’t about promoting the SONGWRITERS who wrote the songs, OR the artists who recorded them. It’s about promoting the restaurant, club, etc. Promotion is when an artist goes on David Letterman and performs their song.. .and guess what, The Letterman Show, pays royalties to ASCAP and BMI Radio airplay is also a kind of promotion.. .and you guessed it, radio stations pay royalties to these organizations, too.

          When you play music in your bar, restaurant, or store, you’re using the music to create an atmosphere conducive to patrons having a good time, buying food and drink, products, etc. You have to pay for the products yous sell, the food, wine & liquor you serve, the supplies used to serve it, the labor, etc., and the electricity, gas, water, etc., required to maintain the comfortable buying atmosphere. Think of the music just like the electricity, if that helps get your head around this.

          When you buy a CD or iTunes download, you’re entitled to use the music for PERSONAL use. As soon as you cross into the COMMERCIAL space, where you’re performing the music for the public, a public performance royalty is required. That’s the law. If you don’t like it, tell your congresspeople. The music industry isn’t perfect, true.. But that’s not an excuse to make unauthorized use of their products.

          • No this is not an accurate comparison for music is not anything at all like electricity, food, etc…where electricity is concerned it is clear who is providing the service and clear who is to be paid for such a service. Music on the other hand in general that isnt clearly owned by anyone, particularly in the case of folk music for example Irish Traditional music which has no copyright with anonymous authors in 90% of what is played due to the ancient origin of such music, is not clearly owned by anyone and so is not the same as charging for electric, food, etc…

      • Yeah, and for that matter why don’t you pay for the gravel in the parking lot and the viewing of the decor and every other random thing around the place?

      • “If you have to pay for the food, beverages and other items you provide to customers, why wouldn’t you also pay for music? If you have to pay for the electricity you use to provide light for your customers, why wouldn’t you pay for music?”

        I’m curious–a quick scan of your comments, & I don’t see any references to the allowed exemptions in the fairness in music licensing act–1998??

        • TJ,

          Thanks for keeping me honest. You’re right. Under the Fairness in Music Licensing Act of 1998, Businesses that perform music only from licensed >
          radio, television, cable & satellite sources, that do not re-transmit beyond their establishments, and do not charge admission, are exempted as follows:

          Restaurants, bars and grills that are smaller than 3,750 gross square feet, and all other retail establishments that are smaller than 2,000 gross square feet, are exempt from paying license fees to songwriters, composers and music publishers, but only for their use of radio and TV music

          Businesses whose square footage exceeds the amounts listed also qualify for the exemption if they use six or fewer speakers with no more than four speakers in any one room or use audiovisual equipment consisting of no more than four TV’s, with no more than one TV in each room, and no TV having a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches, together with the same speaker restrictions.

          Because these exemptions apply only to TV, Radio, Satellite and Cable, establishments that play CDs, tapes, iPods, iTunes and especially LIVE music (if not all original music), are still required to obtain licenses from the PROs. Likewise restaurants and sports bars with big-screen TVs won’t qualify.

          • Studies indicate–about 70% of bar/restaurants are exempt under this law. The point is–business owners need to be aware of the law–because the PRO agents NEVER divulge the law. The PRO’s need to be held accountable (for obtaining improper fees)for not informing business owners of their rights.

          • I don’t know where you get thee statistics. I’m skeptical. Yes, SOME restaurants and bars are exempt. The PROs have better things to do than chase after exempt venues.

          • oops — that suggests your assertion that they don’t go after businesses that are exempt isn’t necessarily true.

            I work with a small Chamber of Commerce that does a free festival once a year — we have a local band that plays traditional bluegrass and we’ve been dogged for months by an ASCAP rep.

      • far as i’m concerned, as a venue/ business owner, by playing music in your space you could consider it to be advertising for said music/ composer, therefore, they should be paying you, or at least calling it even. if you have signed print or painting on your wall, that is creating ambience, but you don’t pay an art organization an extortion tax everytime someone gazes at it.

  20. Quick question, in a limousine or taxi, do I need to have a license to play music in my vehicle when passengers are on-board? What do licenses generally cost?

  21. I own several small gyms. I play radio that comes from my cable provider for background music. I also have five TV’s playing news,espn, etc. I have first been told that I am out of compliance for the TV’s but not the background music. Now I am being told that music is out of compliance. My problem is that they do not know what the law is, how can they enforce it on my gym? I do not use music for anything other than background music, I do not use it for classes. How do I find out if I am compliant or not without just taking their word for it?

  22. Iam a charter member of the local non profit blues society,also a musician from a family of musicians. i have a small family restaurant, in which i allow the blues society to hold events with live local blues musicians. these events are held after my business is closed. i provide space, lights, sound,food and drinks at no charge to the band.the bands charge a donation fee that completely goes to them.i make nothing and in fact it costs me money. i am just trying to support local i need an ascap license to do this? thank you for you time. cs

  23. Hi Gordon,

    Thanks for answering all these questions. If I download a bunch of music onto an Ipod legally and rent that ipod out as a service would I be covered by the Ascap/BMI blanket?

    • ASCAP/BMI licenses would cover the performances of the songs. In the U.S., the rental of the ipod doesn’t really require a license.. It’s not really different than a DJ bringing crates of CDs to the gig and spinning them for the event.

      In some countries, there are rental/lending royalties payable. Check your local rules if outside the States.

  24. Does this affect a for-hire event space (like a wedding hall, but not just weddings.)

    It would be up to the renters of the space to provide music (CD player or iPod dock provided by the space as well as installed audio gear – just not content)

    • Yup. A venue is a venue.

      Some theaters and other rental venues are able to pass the requirement along to their renters, but you’d need to work it out with the societies in advance.

  25. If someone owns a private business, and buys music for their ipod, can they play it on the stereo at their business? The business in question is a small gymnastics gym who is now being hounded by ASCAPs goons. They are even implying that the gymnasts’ floor music, purchased from a floor music composer who has already obtained all the copyrights, etc, is also included. Isn’t there something in the rules that pertain to this? It’s ridiculous the amount they want a small private business to pay to play legally purchased music (not the radio).
    And, I just wanted to say, “all things are lawful…but all things are not expedient.” Sometimes it is just wrong to impose all these legal qualifications on every one. It is sucking the life out of people and this country.

    • The short answer is “no”. Just because you’ve purchased a song (whether a download, CD or whatever), you do NOT have the right to play it in public such as at a restaurant, club, gym, or other place of business. The purchase of the song grants only the right to play the song for PERSONAL use. These other uses are considered ‘public performances’, and ASCAP / BMI / SESAC are charged with collecting royalties from the songwriters and composers of the songs for that kind of use.

      There ARE some exceptions and limitations, (look at the AIKEN case involving ASCAP), but generally, licenses are required.

      If the floor music is original composition, and the composer has granted the rights in question, then ASCAP has no business claiming a right to collect for that… but proof can be a problem.

      Frankly, paying for the licenses is likely to involve less expense than hiring a lawyer to defend and argue with ASCAP about this situation.

      • That’s just the thing, isn’t it? It’s easier and less expensive to just pay the fees. That gives ASCAP and the others blanket control with no checks and balances, and no one can challenge them. Like I said, the legalise in this country is sucking the life out of everyone and everything. Reason is often absent, and common sense is lost.

        • I disagree with your premise. It’s only appropriate to pay the fees if you’re actually legally obligated to do so. If you’re playing music in a business establishment, that’s NOT covered by the mere purchase of a CD or download. You are required to either obtain the license, or NOT play the music.

          The situation you describe is actually very simple. If you want to use the product (music) in your business, you must pay for the right to do so. Merely paying 99 cents to iTunes is not sufficient. You DO have a choice. You can choose not to play music.

          • Sorry — spamming your comments section tonight.

            But one last thought —

            Your comment, “You DO have a choice. You can choose not to play music.” is EXACTLY what is wrong with how the PROs are going after this. Who wins when venues are bullied into not playing any music at all?

        • to Mister Gorden, what you saying is playing music is restaurant that I bought cd from is okay, According to ACAP. It’s not okay, as restaurant owner here, we still have to pay 365 dollars a year if we want to play cd.

  26. I am planning on showing my Documentary at Film Festivals which has music from artists as background music. I heard if I am NOT trying to “gain profit” from the Documentary & I am ONLY trying to use the Festival to gain exposure as a new Indie Director or gain distribution…”am I exempt”?

    How does all these other “Student Filmmakers or Indie Directors” get away using these songs?

    Is it true there is something called “FESTIVAL RIGHTS” that waives you “just to use the music for Festival purposes only”, but when I actually do gain distribution and start making money from the film, that’s when I need to get Licensing???

    Is this true? Please, I need help before the festival.


    • You’ve heard wrong. Profit is not a major consideration in copyright infringement analysis. It MAY be possible to obtain a festival only license, but you DO still need to contact the rights holders (music publisher and record label) and get it in writing.

  27. If an artist is being interviewed by a public radio station, and is going to be present and has given written consent for some of their originals to be aired during the interview, is that breaking any laws?

    • As I understand it, an Artist may consent to use of works he/she controls, ASCAP/BMI’s right to license such uses being non-exclusive. BUT, this only applies if the songs in question are owned/controlled by the Artist, and not by a publisher or third party songwriter.

  28. What if a business just turns on the radio? Would that be against the rules? How could that be okay, but to pick out your favorite songs and artists be against the law? I think songwriters & bands should be thankful to anyone giving them free public exposure. And not be suing them.

    • Your point of view is a common one, but songwriters can’t make a living from “free public exposure”. Remember that the songwriter isn’t always the performer who recorded the song. Songwriters only get paid when artists record and sell copies of records, or when their songs are used in a commercial manner. (using music in a retail store or restaurant is a commercial, rather than a private, personal use).

      When a business uses music to create its ‘ambience’ or atmosphere, it derives value from that music. If this weren’t the case, few businesses would bother to play music in their store, restaurant, or whatever. So, to answer the question: If a business plays the radio it MAY be required to obtain licenses from the Performing Rights Organizations…. it depends, though, on the WAY the music is played. So, for example if a shopkeeper keeps a small, portable radio on a shelf behind the counter, a license is probably NOT required. But, if the store has an installed stereo system, with multiple speakers throughout the store, etc,… then a license probably IS required.

      It should also be noted that the radio station’s programming is itself a copyright-protected performance, and will also require a license. So, you’ve got to negotiate with the station, AND the songwriters (or ASCAP./BMI/SESAC)

      This is why some businesses opt for a system like MUZAK, which provides one-stop shopping for music to use in their establishments.

  29. We own a small business and we receive SESAC & ASCAP phone calls all the time because we play music. We already pay a fee to xm radio and we pay the bands to play music at our restaurant. I hardly think that the musicians that have made millions already on their product are struggling, I do know that we as a small business are struggling to keep up with everyone trying to nickle & dime us for every little thing! You can’t tell me that these organizations are a non for profit when they start negotiating percentages on licensing fees.

    • Unless I’m mistaken, your XM license is for private use, and doesn’t cover the public performance rights that are the purview of ASCAP and BMI. You don’t have to believe that these organizations are non-profit, any more than you have to believe that the earth is round, but it is, nevertheless, the truth.

      The fact is, when you play music in your business, you are using that music to create part of the ambience, the atmosphere that makes it attractive to your customers. It’s appropriate that the people who created that music should receive compensation from you for their help in making your restaurant a success.

      The argument that these musicians are already rich is irrelevant… they created something that you obviously perceive as valuable… so they should receive compensation if you use their creations to advance your own business interests. If you don’t like it, you are certainly free to run your restaurant as a “music free” establishment.

      Suppose a customer came in to your restaurant, ordered a big meal, ate it, and then walked out without paying… “because the owners already have enough money”. Isn’t that what you’re doing when you use music without obtaining the proper licenses?

        • Well, I stand corrected about the XM license (assuming that the original commenter is in fact using a business license from XM…. ) Nevertheless, when you have bands perform live in a venue, it IS necessary to have the ASCAP and BMI licenses in place UNLESS the bands are playing all original, UNpublished songs.

  30. We live in a small mobile home park (300 units) which is governed by a Home Owner’s Association. We have potlucks twice a month with live entertainment. The entertainers are paid through a free-will offering. We do not allow anyone from outside our park to attend; these are private functions. We also have a 20 member chorus which performs twice a year. Our park currently has a license with BMI. Now ASCAP is wanting us to license with them. Are we required to have either or both licenses?

    • It’s likely that you DO need to have licenses from both societies. Best advice is to consult with a knowledgeable lawyer to investigate, since there are some exceptions that may cover your situation.

      The good news is that these licenses are (as I understand it) relatively inexpensive…

      • You are full of it. There is a minimum fee of over $300. That’s hardly “inexpensive”, unless you are getting your money thru racketeering, which BMI & Ascap do.

  31. I’m with a small roller derby team that contracts with a local roller derby rink for putting on games. The team pays the rink for the event, and the contract states that the rink is responsible for supplying a DJ and music.

    The rink has licenses with ASCAP and BMI. Does the roller derby team need one to?


  32. bmi and the rest of these goons are just another example of big business beating on the little guy, millionaires wanting money from the poor and struggling, if i purchase a cd i should be able to play it anywhere anytime the artists got there money at the time of purchase

    • Ken,

      Your interpretation misses the mark. The songwriter is entitled to be paid each time a work is “performed” publicly. That’s what BMI and ASCAP collect. For what it’s worth, most songwriters make VERY little money from record sales, unless they’re also the recording artist. The performance royalties make up the difference (somewhat).

      This isn’t about big businesses. Most songwriters are struggling artists trying to eke out a living by doing what they love. Shouldn’t they be paid something when a restaurant uses their work to create an ‘ambience’ that’s conducive to the sale of food and drink?

      • again, interms of intellectual “property,” how is music, that which hits the ears, different from art that is visible to the eyes? both create ambience. so does incense, or air freshener. but you don’t have to pay some legalized mafia once every year for the framed pieces displayed on your business walls…
        the argument will keep going back and forth here, between those that uphold the law and those that know it’s an opportunistic crock. i have a business and cannot afford to pay 3 companies, much less one, for the mixtapes I play that I made 20 years ago. Probably 80% of the music I play is independent. Customers ask all the time “What are you playing,” therefore, I am “advertising” said music, for free! There should be a public database or service that shares independent music so as to avoid the fees corporate thugs try to make you pay. They come across as “How can we help you?” in bold italics in their letters…well, you could help me by getting off my back…I can’t even afford health care, or insurance, or property taxes, etc.
        Those companies pay ex-judges to consult them. They can afford attorneys. They have lobbyists creating the laws that serve them finacially. I make soup and coffee and sandwiches. I don’t have thousands of dollars a year to spare.
        It is not affordable. If it were, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem. But it’s so convoluted. What constitutes a popular song? The money that goes into promoting it, and media. The musicians that do not pander to big labels and copywriting that mant small business play won’t ever get anything. Money sucks the life of everything. Greed and government and corporate corruption. Yuck. I plan to find the loopholes and use them. I ain’t paying.

        • Another good point~if those companies pay employees to condescend to and harass business owners over the phone (like they did to me-“Ma’am I’m trying to HELP you!”), and pay spies to enter businesses, and troll websites such as Facebook like vultures for fresh meat, it’s probable they stoop to paying “experts” to infuse their opinions and rhetoric in media and even threads such as this.

        • Is there a list of music available that I can inspect for proof of musician registrations. I’m sure it would make for very interesting reading.

  33. My church is planning on starting a small coffee house for teenagers and would like to play varying cds in the background. Would a license be required for this? We would also like to play music videos on certain nights, are there any restrictions on those?

  34. Hi,

    Does playing music through the radio require paying a company such as BMI? What about playing talk radio, such as NPR?


  35. I have two questions regarding playing music in my small Mexican Restaurant. I have seen web sites that will sell CDs or downloads that are ‘royalty free’. If I played these songs would I be in violation of the copyright laws? If I buy a self-produced CD from a guy singing his own songs would I be okay?

  36. I am an acoustic musician. Could I purchase an ascap license that would allow me to perform at various venues?

  37. Hi, We are planning to open a gocery store. Is there any control over music produced outside of US? I am planning to buy some backround music from online stores that advertise royalty free music. Do we need a license? If yes, do we need license from BMI and ASCAP both?

  38. I own a Greek restaurant in New York City. We play background Greek music mainly old traditional.
    Of what I know ASCAP is an American organization protecting and distributing royalties to various artists. I want to know how it works in my case that we only play Greek music.

    Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.

  39. The copyright act is FEDERAL law, and applies throughout the U.S.

    Public Domain (by definition) means that the work is not protected by copyright law, and no license is therefore required.

    Whether a work is in the public domain can be a complicated analysis, since the duration of copyright protection varies depending when the work was originally created, published, whether notice was affixed, etc.

  40. Does the “Title II of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act” apply to all states and there any licensing issues with music regarded as in the public domain?

  41. Frank –

    I’m responding to you privately, since you’ve mentioned some specifics, but generally, yes the store will have to pay ASCAP/BMI if they’re playing the songs.

    You, however need a different kind of license, since you’re not making “public performances” covered by ASCAP/BMI…

  42. Greetings!
    I’m starting a business that provides music for businesses. What type of fees apply to my situation since my cusotmers businesses vary in size? I intend to use pre-recorded music. If I acquire the proper licenses (ASCAP/BMI) does the store have to pay too?

  43. Sure. Anywhere music is performed (whether live or recorded) for the public, a license is required. BMI (and ASCAP, SESAC, etc) have special licenses for this kind of operation, which are, generally, quite affordable.

    I’m not aware that these performing rights societies are actively pursuing many of the smaller festivals and events that you describe, but I’m certain that the larger, better known festivals are on their radar.

    Best practice is to contact the societies (you need licenses from all 3, in many cases), to obtain the necessary license BEFORE the event.

    The help of an experienced entertainment lawyer (like myself) can be invaluable in determining what license(s), are required.

  44. Are you familiar with any situations in which a festival has been required to enter a contract with BMI. I am talking about the type of festival that happens in many local communities (examples near me include the shrimp festival on Amelia Island, a blueberry festival in Alma, Georgia, etc.). Thanks, Scott

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