Restaurant Law Blog

Friday, March 7, 2014

Are You Playing Music in Your Bar or Restaurant Without a Music Distribution License? A Recent Crackdown in NYC Could Cost You Thousands in Fines

If you play music in your restaurant (even as background music through your iPod) without the appropriate music distribution license, you may be fined up to $30,000 for each song played.  Even playing songs that you legally purchased is considered to be against the law because there is a difference between purchasing music for “personal use” versus “commercial use.” In recent weeks, a few of our clients have received letters from ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) – a Performing Rights Organization that represents thousands of artists. The other well-known Performing Rights Organizations include SESAC (the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.).

ASCAP’s letter notified these clients that they are in violation of Copyright Law due to their “unauthorized performances of copyrighted musical works.” ASCAP’s letter further explained that the courts may award damages that range from $750 to $30,000 for each song played plus the costs of the lawsuit. As an alternative to a costly lawsuit, owners could purchase an ASCAP license which allows the restaurant or bar to play all songs by members of ASCAP for a monthly or yearly fee.

Many restaurants and bars that play music do not have the appropriate licenses, but is it worth the risk? The internet has made it even easier for Performing Rights Organizations to identify which venues are playing music. If you do get caught, your chances of success are not good. One of the largest Performing Rights Organizations, BMI, has not lost a single lawsuit filed against copyright infringers in over 51 years. Obtaining a license does not have to be costly – for smaller venues, the license may be as little as $300 per year.

As an alternative to obtaining a license with ASCAP, SESAC, or BMI, more options are becoming available to restaurant owners. The popular music website www.Pandora.com is currently offering a business subscription for $24.95/month.


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