Almost every single rule you can think of comes with an exception. You should always wear a coat outside (unless it's hot). You should always drive on the right side of the road (unless you're in Europe).
You should always drink your milk (unless you have lactose intolerance). These exceptions can protect us from doing things that we just don't have to do.
The rules that apply to music licensing also come with exceptions, but you'll need to pay close attention to what those exceptions are and how they work. Suggesting that you have an exception when you don't could cost you.
Here are a few examples of times that might seem like exceptions to a musical licensing rule. In these moments, you might be tempted to play whatever music you'd like to play without a license. Here is the reality of each scenario, along with some consequences that might take hold if you make that choice.
Using a Personal Streaming Account
You play music in your business using a personal streaming account.
You've signed up as an individual with Pandora or Spotify, and you've plugged your business sound system into your account. That setup takes just minutes, and you're prepared to play your personal selection of music for all of your customers.
Unfortunately, that use isn't legal. Personal accounts from companies like Pandora are made for individual use.
That information is often included in the fine print of the app, although it is easy to overlook. Signing up for the app lets you play music for yourself, not for your customers. If you make this decision, you could get sued.
That happened to a company in Charlotte, according to The Charlotte Observer. The owner of the business thought he was protected when he played songs using Spotify and Pandora, but he was hit with a lawsuit for $150,000.
Assume the Hired Band Has a License
You are holding a work festival, and you assume the band has a license.
According to BMI, it is the responsibility of the business to get the license for public performances that benefit that business. That means you will need to secure the paperwork, and you will need to ensure that the music played adheres to the agreements spelled out in that paperwork. If you are caught, the companies will come after you, not the musicians.
Using Music as a Teaching Aid.
You are using music as a teaching aid.
If you're pulling together a course, either for young students or adult learners, you might use music to help:
- Set the tone for the lesson.
- Demonstrate a musical concept.
- Explain a specific point in time.
- Provide a pop of color to a dull lesson.
According to BMI, you will not need a license if you work for a nonprofit institution, and you are teaching the course in a face-to-face format. If you are using any kind of distance learning, or you work for a for-profit institution, you will absolutely need a license.
Use Music During a Charity Event
You want to use music during your charity event.
If you work for a nonprofit institution, and you'd like to use music during a big event, you may be able to play any kind of music you would like to play without a license. But the rules are very strict.
According to BMI, you cannot charge admission to the event. You also cannot use the event for any kind of commercial advantage or private financial gain. And, if the person who holds the copyright finds out about the event and sends you a letter of objection, you cannot play that person's music.
Use Music During a Business Seminar
You want to use music during your business seminar.
If your company is holding a seminar, convention, or another similar learning event, you will need to get a license for the music you play, according to ASCAP. Presumably, there would be an exception for companies that work on a nonprofit status, but again, if you charge admission to the event, even a nonprofit would need to get a license for the music played.
Can You Skip These Rules?
Understanding licensing laws isn't easy, and it can be tempting to simply do what you want to do and hope you won't get caught. That isn't wise.
Most consumers come to events, classes, seminars, and festivals armed with very small cameras connected to the internet. They can post clips in minutes, including audio footage. A clever representative of a company like BMI or ASCAP needs only to look at that clip for proof that you are using music without a license, and the law is on their side if they take you to court.
The lawsuits that make the news typically involve a performing rights organization and a restaurant or bar. In one such example, published in the Huffington Post, a restaurant owner was asked to pay $30,000 for playing music without a license. There is no reason to assume that the other examples demonstrated above couldn't come with the same price tag. When performing rights organizations catch a company, they have a legal right to ask for money in return.
We can help. At Cloud Cover Music, we can provide you with the right soundtrack for your day-to-day business needs, and we can help you pull together special lists made for your occasional events. All of our music is protected, so you will not be subject to lawsuits. That will allow you to focus on putting together the best event, and pleasing your customers every day, without worrying about when the next court summons will hit your desk.
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- Popular Uptown Bar in Charlotte Sued by Major Music Publishers. (February 2018). The Charlotte Observer.
- Music Licensing for Festivals and Special Events. BMI.
- C in a Circle — Exceptions to the Rule: When Unlicensed Uses of a Copyright Are Not Infringements. (June 2006). BMI.
- ASCAP Licensing: Frequently Asked Questions. ASCAP.
- Restaurant Music Licensing Fees Enforced More Consistently by BMI, ASCAP. (September 2011). Huffington Post.