Is it Illegal to Play or Stream Music in Your Business

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We know that music has the power to make everything a little bit better. That's true whether the music is playing at home or at work. The perfect soundtrack just seems to make everything shine.

If you are the person choosing the music playing overhead at work, you need to know about copyright law. There are times when the in-store music you play breaks that law, and that could jeopardize your entire business.

Copyright Law in Brief

The best way to understand how copyright law works and whether or not you're in violation is to consult with a lawyer. But there are a few fundamentals we can share with you that can help make the risk of playing music a little easier to understand.

First, know that there are two types of copyright protection that can apply to musicians. The first protects the composition of the work, and the second protects the recording of the work. People who hold a copyright then own the exclusive right to play, distribute, and profit from their work. As Digital Music News points out, holding a copyright can also help these creators prohibit someone else from playing, distributing, and profiting from the work.

At first glance, it may not seem like playing music in a business setting could be considered a copyright violation. The issue comes about due to the law's definition of "performance." According to the National Federation of Independent Business, a performance happens when music is played in a space where people who are not related gather.

Chances are, your business could be considered a building made up of spaces just like this. Lobbies, bathrooms, reception areas, hallways, dining rooms, ballrooms, exercise rooms, and more allow people who are not related to come together. If you serve them with music, you are holding a performance.

If you hold a performance and do not pay the copyright holder, you could be subject to fines as detailed in American copyright law. That law states you would be responsible for the copyright holder's actual damages or statutory damages. Those statutory damages can range from $750 to $30,000. Higher rewards come with cases where the disregard for the law seems "willful." In those cases, you could be fined $150,000.

Detailed Examples of Illegal Activity

When would music played in a business be considered an illegal act, subject to copyright law? Let's dive in to just a few examples that might seem familiar to you.

  1. Playing music in the lobby: Infusing your lobby with music that reflects your brand is a smart way to help your customers understand your business model. But the music you play here is considered a public performance if that music originates from a record, tape, CD, or standard streaming service. When you buy a piece of music or sign up for a personal streaming account, copyright protections don't extend to business use.
  2. Playing music for patrons of your restaurant: Enhancing the flavor of a meal with a dash of music is a smart move. But again, if the tune originates from a private music purchase, you are not protected. According to the National Restaurant Association, you can play the radio in your restaurant if the facility is smaller than 3,750 square feet or if the facility is larger than 3,750 square feet but meets specific exemptions concerning the number of loudspeakers and cover charges.
  3. Playing music in your gym: Whether you pump tunes into your main gym space or you use music to help people move through a specific exercise class, you will need to secure the rights to the songs.
  4. Playing music in your salon: If you play music in shared spaces, such as saunas and the lobby, you are holding a public performance and breaking the law if you don't have an agreement that covers your use of music.

Many More Examples Available

Clearly, there are all sorts of ways you can violate copyright law by playing music in your business. Thankfully, you have options. To play the music you'd like to play without the fear of a lawsuit, you need to connect with copyright holders. We make that easy.

At Cloud Cover Music, we have negotiated agreements with copyright holders, so we make sure you can play music without breaking the law. Our prices are reasonable, and the peace of mind we deliver is truly priceless. Contact us to find out more about our program.


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