Jan 27 2014
Music is protected by copyright law, which provides exclusive rights to copyright owners to perform or play their songs. If a restaurant or bar plays music without permission, they are infringing on the copyright, and copyright law allows the owner to recover damages ranging from $750 per violation, to $150,000 if a court decides the infringement was willful.
In Range Road Music, Inc. v. East Coast Foods, Inc., the Court of Appeals found a restaurant violated copyright laws when it played music without a license. The court awarded the Performing Rights Organization (PRO) nearly $200,000 in damages and attorney’s fees. PROs employ investigators that visit businesses to see whether songs are played without a license.
One exception to the rule allows restaurants or bars under 3,750 square feet to play music from a radio, television, or similar household device without a license, provided there are fewer than six speakers (with limits on the placement of speakers), and customers aren’t charged to listen.
Songwriters, composers and music publishers generally join one of three Performing Rights Organizations that license their work to the public: the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), and SESAC . The PROs send royalties to the copyright owners.
However, obtaining a license from one PRO doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear — you only have a license for that PRO’s copyright holders. For example, the composer of a song may be represented by ASCAP, while the lyricist may be with SESAC. To avoid this problem, most restaurants and bars choose to purchase a blanket license from each of the PROs, which allows the licensee to play any of the music from each PRO’s library. Blanket licenses can range from the low hundreds to several thousands of dollars per year. Like any other agreement, these licenses are fully negotiable. When it comes time to securing one of these PRO licenses, hire an experienced attorney as they will be able to negotiate the best price for your specific establishment.