ASCAP stands for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; however, the organization has primarily used their acronym for the last several decades.

This is the only American performing rights organization (PRO) controlled by the composers, writers, and music publishers who make up the membership of the group. It is also one of the oldest PROs in the United States, having been founded in 1914, and one of the largest, with over 670,000 creative professionals being represented. Their members elect the company’s board of directors, ensuring that the organization always represents its members’ interests.

What Is ASCAP?

ASCAP represents all kinds of creative professionals in the music industry and keeps a catalogue of 11.5 million songs and scores. The money made from licensing these compositions goes to members in the form of royalty payments, ensuring that musicians, artists, and musical publishers get paid for their hard work.

This organization has long focused on advocacy for their creative members.

For example, in 1924, a delegation of ASCAP members successfully lobbied U.S. Congress to maintain stricter copyright laws for music played on the radio or other broadcasts. A 1917 Supreme Court decision upheld ASCAP’s right to sell licenses to make sure their members were paid royalties, so the organization is largely responsible for the format that PROs use to license music today. Through the decades, ASCAP has represented Broadway composers, rock and roll icons, and pop music sensations.

Like other PROs, ASCAP licenses members’ work to anyone who wants to use it for public performance. This could mean covering the song, performing a composition at an event, or playing an album in a business. Public performances are considered any occasion in which a significant group of people gathers, aside from private events like gatherings of family or friends. If a song is included in a radio broadcast, television appearance, short film shown in theaters, or used for internet play, including as background music, you may need to contact ASCAP for a license.

There are all kinds of businesses that PROs like ASCAP license to:

ASCAP is transparent about their licenses, rates, and fines. They offer over 100 different types of rate schedules used to manage their members’ creations. If you are a business owner, you can browse their list to see what fees may look like for your type of business. If you do not find what you are looking for there, you can contact ASCAP directly to ask for help.

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How Does ASCAP Work? What Are the Fines for Misusing Music?

You can purchase an annual license to use any song in ASCAP’s catalogue in your business during the year.

You must re-up this license at the end of the year to keep using ASCAP’s music.

If you don’t renew, you face very high fines and potentially a serious lawsuit.

ASCAP works hard to make sure the costs of their licenses are flexible and affordable. While they want their members to be paid a fair royalty for their work, they also understand that some businesses can afford different rates than others. This is why they work with general licenses for all sizes of businesses in all kinds of venues.

You can play music from one small radio or television in your establishment, per copyright law, without paying to license any of the songs. If you have a larger sound system than that, however, you must work with a PRO like ASCAP. If your business also, per ASCAP, has more than 3,750 gross square feet of space, you must purchase licenses to access songs in the ASCAP catalogue. ASCAP employs about 150 licensing representatives across the U.S. who regularly check businesses to make sure there are no violations of music copyright.


The cost of violating the copyrights protected by ASCAP can range widely. Reports show anywhere from a $750 fine to a $30,000 fine per violation. You will also be responsible for paying court costs if you lose a lawsuit.

How Do I Know if ASCAP Contacts Me?

If you accidentally violate a copyright protected by ASCAP, it is important to know that you will receive a written letter.

There have been a number of scams demanding high fees for violating music copyright, but these can be identified by understanding how ASCAP will contact you.

  • All PROs, including ASCAP, contact violators through written letters sent in the mail.
  • You will have an account number in the letter for reference.
  • If you have questions about the letter, you can call ASCAP and use the account number to double-check the information you received.
  • ASCAP will not call you.
  • ASCAP will not email you, and they will especially not email you attachments.

Other Organization

Signing up with ASCAP is simple, and the process can be completed online. However, having access to ASCAP’s library of music may not cover the songs you want played in your business. For decades, many businesses have purchased multiple licenses from multiple PROs so they can have music available for their business. In fact, this is where the concept of the jukebox came from, and ASCAP will still license jukeboxes to businesses, which are filled with great selections from their catalogue.

Most people in the modern world are used to music streaming services. Spotify, Pandora, and SiriusXM are the most popular options, providing a wide range of easy-to-access music, sounds, talk radio, and more. Jukeboxes simply don’t offer this kind of convenience.

Before you plug your mobile phone into a sound system in your business, though, you still need appropriate licensing.

Fortunately, there are commercial music streaming services that offer you premade playlists, the option to make your own playlist, or access to radio stations, all with a monthly subscription that covers any licenses from any PRO you need access to.