In-Store Music in Canada: Licensing, Legality, and Fines

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Canadian laws protect the rights of the people who create and record the music you play in your shop. That means you must follow a few extra — but crucial — steps to avoid legal action, which could be catastrophic for your business.

What Tariffs Apply?

The most important tariff to understand if you plan to use music in your store is Tariff 15A.

Background Music Coverage

Tariff 15A provides a blanket license to play background music throughout your business. You will not get access to music (you’ll still need to buy the music you want to play), but you will pay fees that support the people who created the sounds that fill your shop.

Special Musical Events

If you would like to do something innovative with music, such as contracting with a live band to play music in your store for a special event, you might be subject to other tariffs. But if you are only interested in background music, 15A is the major tariff you must adhere to.

Understand the Fee System

The fees you pay through a tariff system are not negotiable, so you will not be able to contact the companies that administer them and ask for a special deal or a discount.

When the fees are in the process of being set, however, you may have an opportunity to make your voice heard. According to Re:Sound, companies go through a step-by-step process when determining tariff rates:

  1. Application for tariff sent to Copyright Board
  2. Publication of the application in the Canada Gazette
  3. Discussion period, lasting for 60 days
  4. Public hearing
  5. Follow-up questions
  6. Final decision

As a small business owner, you could look for information about the application, submit objections, and head to hearings. You could speak up for other businesses like yours and ensure the fees aren’t unreasonable.

Who Collects Tariffs?

In Canada, two main performing rights organizations (PROs) have the authority to collect tariffs for the people who hold the copyright to the music played. Those two companies are SOCAN and Re:Sound.

Both companies follow the tariff-setting procedure outlined above, and both are empowered by Canadian authorities to collect tariffs and distribute them to the people who hold the copyright. They have the same amount of power, but they serve different audiences.

What Is SOCAN?

SOCAN represents:

  • Songwriters
  • Lyricists
  • Composers
  • Music publishers

In a piece published in Electric City, authors suggest that SOCAN has inspectors to explain the law, and they announce visits in advance to spur companies to comply.

Contact SOCAN.

What Is Re:Sound?

Re:Sound represents the people who play on recorded music and the record companies that produce the recordings you play. They are not involved with composition as much as execution.

In an article published in The Globe and Mail, reporters suggest that Re:Sound has inspectors on the payroll, and their job is to conduct outreach and explain the law.

Contact Re:Sound.

Do You Need to Work With Both?

Unfortunately, a relationship with one entity will not protect you from violating the rights of the other entity. These two companies do not work together to distribute fees. They don't even communicate with one another.

It is also not uncommon for a song you might want to play to have copyright holders affiliated with both companies. To have true protection, you will need a relationship with both companies.

These companies collect fees per the law, not their own opinions. If they walk into your shop and notice that you are playing protected music and look at their notes and see you have no license, you are in violation.

Since most shops are open to the public (that’s how one gets business, after all), it is nearly impossible to prevent an inspection. These people can walk right in and see if you are paying attention to the law or not.

What About Artists From Other Countries?

These companies don't just represent artists living and working in Canada. Instead, these companies represent a wide variety of music professionals living all across the globe.

When music is played in Canada, it is the responsibility of the PRO to collect the fee and distribute it to the person (or people) who hold the copyright, no matter where that person was born or where that person lives now.

This is a model that is followed all over the world, with different companies administering rights per the laws of that country. Most music professionals understand these laws very well and work hard to support the companies that provide them with the fees that support their work.

Some small business owners contact PROs directly to set up an agreement. They may call the companies or seek them out online to pay their fees. But these two companies are not opposed to hiring staff to investigate evidence of businesses playing music without permission.

Consequences for Breaking Copyright

Protections for music creators are enshrined in Canadian copyright law, and those protections allow these creators to profit from their work and control how that work is used by people who do not have a copyright.

There are fees for violations built right into Canadian copyright law, but they can be complex and hard to understand. For example, according to an online version of the law provided by the Government of Canada, fees for violation can range between $100 and $20,000, depending on various factors, including the business type, whether you knew about the breach, and more.

Ultimately, it is up to the court to determine what fee is just for the violation you commit. That leaves you at the mercy of the court.

How to Legally Play Music in a Shop in Canada

Filling your shop with music can make the shopping experience so much better for your customers. The tunes you play could encourage them to linger longer in your company and spend more money at the same time. Here's how to do it without breaking the law:

Play the Radio

Avoid paying fees and don't break the law through a standard radio. If you play the radio in your shop through a traditional radio receiver (not the internet), you're covered.

But if you follow this route, you will have no control over the following:

  • The music played
  • The commercials included
  • The banter of hosts between songs
  • The quality of the sound

Imagine playing a radio program in your store, and a commercial for your competitor comes over the loudspeaker. What if the hosts say something insensitive that offends a customer? Using radio may be free, but it could really impact your business.

Choose Public Domain Tunes

Music that falls within the public domain is no longer protected by any kind of copyright law, and anyone can use that music without paying a fee.

According to the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency, Canadian copyright expires 50 years after the death of the composer and the lyricist of the work. This could be a good option if you want to play very old music.

However, this public domain rule only applies to the original recording of the work. This rule wouldn't cover any reimagining or re-recording of the work. So, if you're planning to push Michael Bublé singing classics through your loudspeakers, you could run into trouble.

Trust a Partner

Most modern consumers are accustomed to controlling music through apps. We create soundscapes that suit our work, our workouts, and more. We give a thumbs-up to the songs we love and skip those we don't. The more we use these apps, the more we become like disc jockeys in our own lives.

Several companies, including ours, offer this same technology to small businesses. You can use an app like this to help create the perfect soundtrack for your store that reflects your brand, pleases your customers, and increases your profits. Your tariff issue will be covered if you partner with a reputable company like ours.

At Cloud Cover Music, we work with small business owners all over Canada. We would love to explain how our program works, and we would like to allow you to take a trial run with our program and see if it works for you. It takes just minutes to get started. Contact us to find out more.

In-Store Music in Canada FAQs

Can you use a personal music streaming service to play music in your restaurant, bar, or store?

No. Your phone, computer, and MP3 players give you the right to play music for personal use. Blast your tunes in your home or car, and you're complying with the law. But use that same technology to entertain customers or patrons, and you're breaking the law. You need a special license or permission to play music publicly.

How can I legally play music in my business in Canada?

You could play the radio through a traditional radio receiver or focus on music that's within the public domain. But to truly comply with the law and ensure your guests hear music they'll enjoy, form a partnership with a company like ours. We'll take care of the licensing and tariff fees and make creating a playlist easy.

Can I play the radio in my business in Canada?

Yes, you can. But you must play traditional radio programs (not those streamed through the internet). So, you'll likely subject your patrons to commercials, DJ talking, and more.


SOCAN Background Music Licensing: What You Need to Know. (May 2017). Small Business BC.

How Tariffs Are Certified. Re:Sound.

SOCAN, Re:Sound and CONNECT: Different Rights and Different Collectives. Connect Music Licensing.

Music Played at Public Events to Be Subject to New Copyright Fees. (May 2018). The Globe and Mail.

Heads Up for Local Businesses: SOCAN Is Coming to Town! (January 2014). Electric City.

Infringement of Copyright and Moral Rights and Exceptions to Infringement (Continued). Government of Canada.

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