Performing rights organizations (PROs) in the United States get a lot of attention and press. These are litigious companies that bring lawsuits against companies that play music without permission, and each lawsuit tends to come with press coverage.
If you live in Canada, you may feel quite lucky when you read these news articles. After all, since you live in another country, American PROs can't come after you for tariffs.
It's important that you know that Canada also has PROs, and those organizations can also file suit against you if you play music in your business without the proper permissions to do so. Re:Sound is one of two Canadian PROs you should know about.
What Are Your Obligations?
Before we dive into the specifics about Re:Sound, it might be useful to explain why this company exists and what it is designed to do.
When music is created, anywhere in the world, the people who hold a copyright for that music expect some kind of payment. Each country has its own systems in place for gathering that payment. Each country follows its own copyright laws in gathering that money.
As experts quoted by CBC Radio Canada point out, Canadian copyright law is incredibly complex. The law stipulates that copyrights last for 50 years after the artist's death, and at that time, it is subject to the public domain. Songs in the public domain can be played without a fee.
This may seem simple, but the law is riddled with loopholes. The artist could pass a copyright to a much younger person, who could hold the title until death and 50 more years. And recordings of music have their own laws and their own timeframes.
A copyright infringement lawsuit could also come with:
- Fees for your lawyer.
- Fees for the PRO’s lawyers.
- Court costs.
- Reputation damage.
Due to the complexities, it isn't always reasonable for Canadian businesses to use music in the public domain in their businesses. It is very difficult to determine if a song is in the domain, and songs that enter can exit again just as quickly.
If music is played and the copyright holder is not compensated, the holder of the copyright can sue. According to the Justice Laws Website of the Government of Canada, the penalties for violating the law can vary, as they are set at the discretion of the court. If a case comes forward on a day when the court feels prickly, the consequences could be severe.
That's why it is recommended to gain permission before you play music.
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What Re:Sound Does
According to the organization's website, Re: Sound is designed to offer licenses to businesses, so you can play music publically without violating Canada's copyright laws. On this same page, Re:Sound claims to offer "one stop shopping," but that isn't completely accurate.
On an FAQ page, Re:Sound points out that the licenses they offer cover only the rights of artists and record companies. In other words, they protect the people who create sound recordings. This is only half of a musical picture.
The composers, songwriters, and publishers who created the compositions that appear in a recording are covered by a completely different Canadian PRO. Businesses who want to be in full compliance must have an agreement with that PRO (SOCAN) in addition to having an agreement with Re:Sound.
It may seem frustrating, but these two organizations do not work together, and ignoring one leaves your business open to lawsuits. In order to gain full protection, you must have agreements with both.
Anyone who works in the music industry must also form an agreement with both Re:Sound and SOCAN. It's important for you to understand that you don't just have to pay fees for music that originates in Canada, played by Canadians. Anyone in any country that creates music could protect it through a Canadian PRO, and if they do, those Canadian PROs can protect that copyright protection.
The Re:Sound Tariff Model
Determining what your Re:Sound budget should be isn't easy. The company offers a tariffs page with a calculator that contains multiple questions, such as:
- What type of background music do you need?
- How many square feet is your business?
- How many days do you use music?
There are different calculators to help you understand how much different types of music will cost. Each calculator has a set of questions and a different set of fees. There is no crossover among calculators.
With all of the questions answered, a number pops up in a box. But business owners who want to understand how those fees work and what they can do to lower the fee may be stumped by this interface. It doesn't provide all of the information at a glance. The company offers salespeople who can help, but they are not available around the clock.
For some organizations, the fees can vary quite a bit from event to event. For example, if you own a company that rents space for events, the fees you must pay will vary by event. According to the University of British Columbia, there are different fees depending on room capacity and whether or not the event includes dancing. Those fees vary from $9.25 to $78.66.
There are also exemptions that can drop the fee, but understanding them isn't easy. If you own a business like this, the opacity of the fees could become incredibly frustrating, and the amount you might pay could vary widely from month to month.
What Happens if You Don't Comply?
As a small business owner, you have dozens of details to attend to, including ordering inventory, maintaining a trained workforce, and advertising. You may not feel as though you have the time or the bandwidth to handle this copyright issue, and you may opt to ignore the issue until you are forced to deal with it.
If you choose to follow this route, expect to see a letter from Re:Sound. According to CBC Radio Canada, the organization relies on directories and databases to find Canadian business owners, and Re:Sound sends out hundreds of letters each week. Each letter explains copyright law and includes an invoice.
These are just letters, not visits, and they are easy to forget about. But the company doesn't simply send a letter and then ignore the issue. If you do not provide the company with the fees expected, the letters can escalate in severity. In time, the company can take you to court, and the longer you ignore the letters, the more your defiance looks willful. You could face larger fines.
We Can Help
Dealing with Canadian PROs isn't easy. The fees are hard to understand, and the need for multiple contracts can make anyone feel cranky. We offer another way. At Cloud Cover Music, we have negotiated contracts with Re:Sound, so we can offer you the music you want to play for just one fee. Our music works in an app, so you have control over the songs you play with just a few taps.
We would like to talk with you about our system and show you how it works. Contact us and we can give you a demonstration and free trial.
- Canadian Copyright Law Remarkably Complex. (September 2015). CBC Radio Canada.
- Infringement of Copyright and Moral Rights and Exceptions to Infringement (Continued). Government of Canada.
- Music Users. Re:Sound.
- FAQ. Re:Sound.
- Tariffs. Re:Sound.
- Information About SOCAN and Re:Sound Fees at UBC. The University of British Columbia.
- Pay Up if You Play Music, Stores Told. (April 2010). CBC Radio Canada.