A blanket license was developed by performing rights organizations (PROs) to grant general access to the organization's music catalog.

Since PROs protect the intellectual property rights of musicians, composers, and music publishers, paying this organization's monthly or annual fee means they fairly distribute this income to performing and recording artists whose work you might play in your business.

Although most PROs offer a blanket license, they do not protect every musician or composer. Often, a business owner must pay for blanket licenses from multiple PROs, which can become complex and expensive.

Commercial music streaming services like Cloud Cover Music navigate these legal restrictions. An affordable monthly subscription fee grants you access to a huge library of music to stream in your business.

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What Is a Blanket License?

A blanket license allows you, as the purchaser, access to the copyright holder's entire musical catalog. The person holding the copyright could be an individual artist, a music publisher or record producer, or the estate of the music's composer.

With a blanket license, you could take any of the songs from this catalog and use them in covered situations, like playing these songs in your business.

A Columbia Law Review article dating back to 1983 described the benefits. Whether the rights holder is an individual artist or a major recording studio, it isn't easy to secure intellectual property rights on a national or international scale. Navigating the needs of each company that wants to license music while simultaneously avoiding theft and misuse is complex without help.

The rights holders themselves can manage blanket licenses. But they are often managed by performing rights organizations (PROs) or publishing administrators and collectives, such as the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC). These organizations also administrate issuing licenses to digital service providers (DSPs) like Cloud Cover Music, who accept payment from companies for access to a streaming music catalog with specific licensing agreements attached, such as the ability to play music in a business like a restaurant or a spa.

Performing Rights Organizations & Licensing Types

In general, businesses that want to play background music in their establishments will contact a performing rights organization (PRO) and purchase a blanket license. This license will give the business access to part or all of the PRO's musical catalog, which the business can then pick from for hours of tunes that customers will recognize since they are popular.

A PRO exists to collect royalties associated with the copyrights for the intellectual property of musicians, composers, and music publishers and then to distribute this income appropriately. Millions of songs are protected by PROs like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or SONA.

Most PROs were formed by musicians or composers in the industry who wanted to protect their intellectual property rights (and those of their collaborators and colleagues).

Each PRO has similar licenses, although there may be subtle differences. They could grant access in the following ways:

  • Individually: Many offer specific licensing rights for individual songs, which can be used in films or commercials.
  • Commercially: PROs provide licenses to radio stations to play particular songs and allow other artists to perform an arrangement of a song at a concert.
  • Universally: Almost every PRO offers a blanket license, which is often the simplest way for businesses to access thousands of songs from thousands of artists without worrying about the context of how the song will be heard.

PROs offer blanket licenses for monthly or annual fees, much like a subscription service. While many major recording artists are covered by more than one PRO, no single PRO can give you access to every song you might want.

Instead, businesses often have to purchase blanket licenses across multiple PROs to access large enough catalogs to rotate their music options. This can become expensive quite quickly.

How Do You Get a Blanket Music License?

You must reach out to each PRO individually to discuss a blanket music license. Remember that working with just one can leave you unprotected, as it's almost impossible to ensure that a song you play resides exclusively within one PRO.

The biggest PROs include the following:

You’ll have to reach out to each one and ask about setting up a blanket music license.

Alternatives to a Blanket License for Businesses

It's time consuming to contact each PRO and negotiate a contract. It's also ineffective, as a song could be covered by two PROs at once. There are alternatives available.

Radio Exemptions

If your place of business is smaller than 2,000 square feet and you're using a music source with six speakers or less, you can play a commercial radio station. Remember you can't play a CD or another piece of recorded music, but you can play the radio.

Public Domain Songs

If you have time and talent on your hands, you could scour the web for songs that fall within the public domain.

In the United States, copyright tends to expire 70 years after the author dies. Older music could fall into this category, but be careful. Modern interpretations of an old song could be protected by different copyrights.

Original Music

If you write your own music and play it yourself, you may not need a copyright. But, playing music you wrote could leave you little time to serve your customers.

Commercial Music Streaming Services

Commercial music streaming services like Cloud Cover Music give you the same simple access you expect from Spotify but with appropriate business-centric licenses.

Cloud Cover Music has a low monthly fee that gives you access to a huge catalog of songs and curated playlists to help you get started. Then, you won't have to worry about whether you can legally play these songs in your business.

References

What Is a Blanket License? SongTrust Help Center.

Blanket Licensing: A Proposal for the Protection and Encouragement of Artistic Endeavor. (June 1983). Columbia Law Review.

What is a Digital Service Provider? SongTrust Help Center.

What is a Performing Rights Organization (PRO)? SongTrust Help Center.

Common Licensing Terms Defined. ASCAP.

What Are the Different Types of Music Licenses? (May 2012). SoundReef.

Playing Music in Your Store: How to Avoid Paying for It. NoLo.

What Is the Public Domain? (July 2022). Copyrightlaws.com