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Facing The Music: Copyright & Licensing Requirements to Play Music at Your Business

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Facing the music posterI went to this seminar at the SF Public Library hosted by the City of San Francisco’s Entertainment Commission and Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which covered the music licensing requirements for businesses in San Francisco.

Attorney Ilse Scott’s presentation was very informative. She outlined the basics of copyright law and how that applies to music creators, especially songwriters. The point of this seminar was to explain how businesses can handle the inevitable letter in the mail from the Performing Rights Organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and newcomer GMR) which collect licensing fees on behalf of songwriters and publishers. She was very fair in her presentation and did not make the PRO’s out to be the bad guys. She explained that their role was to collect money on behalf of the songwriters, and that songwriters have the right to be paid for their creative work. Paying the PRO’s was presented as the cost of doing business. No one in the room disagreed.

jukeboxScott described all the various uses of music in a business, from music on the answering machine to playing the radio or television, to piping in background music, to live performances. The variables are many and all require a license. One new thing I learned was that even if you are doing your own music, if it is registered with a PRO, the venue is still required to have a license.

At this time a business is required to pay the fees for each PRO because trying to administer which songs are in each PRO’s catalogue would be a logistical nightmare. An alternative to managing each PRO’s licensing fees is to use a one stop shop music service. These services handle all the fees from the PRO’s and provide manicured playlists based on information you provide them about your business.

bar musiciansDuring the comments section there were a few disgruntled business owners asking questions which Scott easily
answered. I felt relieved as a songwriter to hear that it is impossible at this time for businesses to get out of paying the license fees once they have been contacted by the PRO’s because of the nature of copyright laws. And they will all get contacted eventually.