After just receiving my ASCAP licensing fee invoice for 2011, I thought it might be a good idea to do a post about music licensing. I dove into researching the topic and came up with the answers to my own questions along with some interesting other facts.
Full Disclosure: I only researched copyright laws of the United States, so if you have any information about international music licensing, please comment!
So without further ado, here are some frequently asked questions about music licensing (after the jump):
Q: What is music licensing?
A: Music licensing ensures that the creators of musical works (singer/songwriters) get paid for their work. A purchaser of recorded music (YOU) owns the media on which the music is stored, not the music itself. You can play your purchased music in your car and in your home, but that's it. Music licensers collect fees on behalf of songwriters, composers and music publishers and distributes them as royalties to those members whose works have been performed. (paraphrased from Wikipedia & BMI's website)
Q: Who needs to purchase rights?
A: If you are making money while playing music, you will have to pay some sort of licensing fee.
This includes dance studios/schools, athletic clubs, competitions, recitals, dance stores who play music in the background, and more. Here is ASCAP's list of available music licenses.
Q: Yeah, but do I REALLY need to pay for music licensing?
A: Do you play music while you teach? Do your teachers or aerobics instructors play music while they teach? Is there music playing in your lobby or locker room? Do you plan to use licensed music in a recital? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then.. yes - you can be sued if you do not pay the licensing fees. If you publicly perform any copyrighted song without proper authorization you are breaking the law and can be held liable for damages from a minimum of $750 up to a maximum of $150,000 per song played (yikes!).
Q: Is my dance school exempt from music licensing because it is an educational facility?
A: Nope. The exemption in the copyright law only applies to nonprofit educational institutions. Studios that are using music and profiting from the performances must obtain proper licensing of those performances.
Q: As a studio owner, do I pay for the music licensing, or do my teachers pay?
A: Since your business is being enhanced by the use of music, you are responsible for obtaining a music license, similar to other permits you must obtain as a business owner.
Interesting side note: The Copyright Law of the United States assigns the responsibility for obtaining authorization for copyrighted music played in rented or leased areas to the owner/operator of the establishment. So the owners of banquet halls, buildings where rooms are rented to dance teachers, or room where a DJ is playing is responsible for obtaining music licenses.
A: Most dance studios will need a General or Blanket music license. Instead of paying per song, you pay an annual fee to cover all songs played during the year.
Q: How is my fee calculated?
A: Your annual fee is based on the average number of different students per week who attend classes using music. Your fee will depend on whether the music is instructional or background and the number of floors comprising the licensed business.
Q: Is there anyway to get a discount?
A: Check with the companies and any dance-related associations you belong to. I believe DMA members receive a discount on licensing fees by paying one check to DMA, who then distributes the money to the licensing companies. Other dance organizations may have discounts.
Q: If I pay one music licensing company, will that cover all music?
A: No. SESAC, ASCAP, and BMI are three separate and distinct Performing Rights Organizations. Each organization represents different copyright holders (songwriters, composers, publishers) and licenses only the copyrighted works of its own respective copyright holders. Most businesses obtain licenses with all three to obtain proper copyright clearance for virtually all of the copyrighted music in the world.
Q: Ok, so how do I know if a song a represented by a licensing group?
A: Most current artists are licensed. You can also search and see if your artist or song is represented on the websites: SESAC, ASCAP, BMI. Songs that are produced by dance companies such as MusicWorks or Kimbo Records may not be registered - you can contact those companies to find out.
You can also find music that is royalty-free or public domain (songs not represented by licensing) by searching online (Royalty free music).
Q: What songs are considered public domain?
A: Music enters the public domain 70 years after the death of the author in most countries other than US. In the United States, any song or musical work published in 1922 or earlier is in the public domain. No sound recordings are public domain in the US due to a tangled complexity of Federal and State Law.
Resources & Further Reading