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.