Is it Infringement for Your Business to Play Someone Else’s Music?

Overhead image of a cup of coffee, headphones, and a cellphone

There’s no doubt that music can evoke feelings and emotions. As they say, music is the universal language. That’s why it’s not surprising that many stores and restaurant owners like to play music in their stores to make customers feel comfortable. Unfortunately, however, what many store owners don’t know is that most of these works of music are actually subject to copyright protection. In other words, a store owner could be sued for copyright infringement for playing music in their store. Section 106 of the Copyright Act provides the owner of the copyright with the exclusive right to control any public performance of their copyrighted work. 

Although it may not seem like it, the act of playing a song in a store is considered a type of public performance. And since there are three different performing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC), which monitor these public performances of copyright music and collect payments for them, playing a few of your favorite songs at work may not be as harmless for you as you think. 

Options for Legally Enjoying Music at Your Place of Business

So does this mean you can never enjoy music at your place of business? No. However, what it does mean is that you can combat this issue by paying for an annual license. Stores that are larger than 2,000 square feet and restaurants that are larger than 3,750 square feet can obtain a license from the performing rights organizations for about $500 annually. It’s important to note that this license does not include live performances of others’ music. If you host a live music performance you are probably looking at about $35 per performance. 

Additionally, if your store includes a café within it, the fees may be separate for the store versus the café. 

For those store owners and restaurant owners who don’t wish to pay for playing music in their place of business, they may instead choose to find music that is considered public domain, like classical music, or to find royalty-free music, made without the need for licenses. You can also play original music for free so long as you have the permission of the composer (who is also the copyright owner).

If your business is in part selling recorded music, there’s a good chance that you aren’t required to obtain an annual license so long as the performances are intended to promote the sale of copies of the copyrighted songs. However, you must be playing music that you are also selling – otherwise, you are not exempt. Additionally, if part of your store is used for other purposes than to sell music, you are also likely not exempt. In other words, if your first floor sells music but your second floor doesn’t, you would still need a license to play music on your second floor – or otherwise risk paying a fee.

Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC Can Help Those in VA Facing Business Litigation

While you may mean no harm playing music at your place of business, you can still get into a lot of trouble for doing so. Understanding what you can – and can’t – do can ultimately save you hundreds of dollars. This is why it’s in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced estate planning attorney. 

At Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC, we understand the importance of protecting your business and all that you work so hard for. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!

Posted in: Business Law