Transforming The Customer Experience

What Can Happen if You Ignore Music Licensing Laws

Posted May 30, 2013 7:11:00 AM

gavel - music licensingYou own or manage a small business in a small town. You want to keep customers entertained while they're in your establishment, so they'll stay longer (and hopefully spend more money).

You put a small CD player or MP3 speaker system in the front of your establishment, and turn your music up loud enough for customers to hear, and they are entertained, they stay longer, and they spend more money. Success, right?

Not so fast!

A few weeks later, you get a notice in the mail from a music licensing company with an acronym name like BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC. The notice says that you owe that company some money for playing their copyrighted music in your establishment.

Don't feel like replying? That's OK, they'll make several attempts to collect their license fees. When you still don't respond, you'll probably be named as a defendant in a lawsuit, potentially costing you and your business thousands of dollars.

So, what do you need to be concerned about? It's called public performance, and it's more pervasive than you might think. Here's what the ASCAP website has to say:

A public performance is one that occurs either in a public place or any place where people gather. A public performance is also one that is transmitted to the public; for example, radio or television broadcasts, music-on-hold, cable television, and by the internet.

Basically, any time any piece of music is performed live at your business or played over a radio, TV, internet, or even your phone lines, it's considered a public performance. This covers just about every song in the world.

But my business is so small...

Think your business is too small, or that because you're based in a small town the "big guy" isn't going to be able to find you? It's happened many times, throughout the country. From QSR Magazine:

BMI files between 75 and 125 copyright infringement lawsuits against eating and drinking establishments every year, according to spokesman Jerry Bailey. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), another large publishing rights organization, files between 250 and 300 per year, according to Vincent Candilora, ASCAP’s senior vice president for licensing. (link here)

Here's another story about a restaurant in a small town in Georgia that was fined $30,450 plus $10,700 in legal fees for playing just FOUR songs!

Imagine the implications to your small business if you're playing copyrighted music without a license, either overhead or on your phone system. All it takes is one investigator to find out, and your company could owe thousands in license fees (or even more if you decide not to pay the fees!)

So what do I do?

If you do want to play music either overhead or on hold, you can either pay the music licensing fees or find a provider that is fully-licensed and able to prove it in case of question.

You can rest assured that if Spectrio provides your on hold messages or music, overhead music or messaging, or digital signage, all required licenses and reports are provided by Spectrio and are included in your service. You don't have to worry about obtaining synchronization or public performance rights, as we are fully licensed through BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, FirstCom, and other performance rights organizations.

(Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /