Why Licensed Music

United States Copyright Law requires business owners playing music in their businesses to pay royalties to the copyright owners of that music. Performing rights organizations (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, etc.) represent the interests of the copyright owners. These performing rights organizations collect licensing fees from businesses that play copyrighted music. The fees apply to both recordings and live performances.

Such fees are required of any establishment that plays copyrighted music for its customers. These establishments can include stores, shopping malls, offices, restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, spas, health clubs, dance studios, trade shows, conventions, skating rinks, fraternal organizations, colleges, universities, amusement parks, bowling alleys, sports teams and numerous other entities. The fees are also required of businesses that use on-hold music for telephone customers.

The proprietor of the business is liable for any infringement of copyrighted music played or performed in his or her place of business. If a business contracts with a service that provides music, such as a satellite service, that service is responsible for obtaining the appropriate licenses (unless the establishment itself charges for admission, in which case the business owner must obtain the licenses).

Failure to obtain a license to perform or play copyrighted music publicly is copyright infringement. The infringer is subject to a civil suit in federal court. Sanctions against an infringer can include an injunction and the copyright owner’s actual damages, as well as the infringer’s profits, or “statutory damages” of up to $30,000 for each copyrighted song performed without a license (up to $150,000 if the infringement occurs willfully). The infringer can also be required to pay the copyright owners’ legal fees. The law also provides for criminal sanctions against those that infringe willfully on a copyright for commercial advantage or private gain.

Performance rights organizations have contacted businesses that regularly use music, to educate them on the rights of copyright holders and to assure that their members are paid for playing of their copyrighted works. Business owners should not be surprised if they are contacted by ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.

For more information about performing rights organizations, their license agreements, or rights and responsibilities under the Copyright Law, contact an attorney or the following organizations:

Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
10 Music Square East
Nashville, TN 37203


55 Music Square East
Nashville, TN 37203


American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)
2675 Paces Ferry Road, SE, Suite 350
Atlanta, GA 30339


U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Ave. SE
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
(877) 476-0778