Thursday, January 3, 2013

Making sense out of music licensing

There’s not a week that goes by at the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) that we don’t get a few calls from members asking about music licensing. The most common questions are if they have to pay to “license” the music they play. They ask, “Do I really have to pay license fees on the music I am playing in my establishment?” Typically, the answer is “yes.” The following will help put the issue into perspective.

Q. Why should I pay for playing music to the public? Legally, a piece of music belongs to the composer who created it and to the music publisher who markets it. When you use other people’s property, you have to ask their permission to do so.

Q. What is a “public performance” of music and what is the “performing right?” A “public performance” is a performance that occurs in a public place or in any other place where people gather (other than a small circle of a family or acquaintances). A public performance is also one that is transmitted to the public; for example, radio or television broadcasts, music-on-hold, cable television or by the internet. Generally, those who publicly perform music must obtain permission to do so from either the owner of the music or his or her representative.

Q. If musicians are playing live music, aren’t they responsible for paying the public performance fees? People mistakenly assume that musicians and entertainers must obtain licenses to perform copyrighted music or that the business where the music is performed can shift that responsibility to the performers. The law says that all of those who participate in, or are responsible for, the performance are legally responsible. Since it is the business owner who obtains ultimate benefit from a performance, it is the business owner who must obtain the license.  Music license fees are just one of the many costs of doing business.

Q. I’m interested in having music played in my restaurant. Do I need permission if I am only using CDs, records, tapes, radio or TV? Yes, you need permission to play CDs, records, or tapes in your establishment. Permission for radio or television transmissions in your business is not needed if the performance is by means of public presentation of TV or radio transmissions. Eating, drinking, retail and certain other establishments of a certain size may play public radio and TV signals over a limited number of speakers or TVs if the reception is not further transmitted (from one room to another, for example) from the place in which it is received. No admission fee can be charged.

Q. My establishment is very small. Do I still need to pay for music licensing? You are required to get a music license if:

·         You play video games with music tracks (such as Guitar Hero)
·         Your establishment is 3,750 square feet or larger (foodservice or drinking     
            establishment), plays the radio or TV, and (has at least one of the following):
o   Has more than four TVs total, or more than four TVs in any one room
o   Has any TV with a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches
o   Any of the audio portions of the audiovisual performance is communicated by means of more than six loudspeakers or there are four loudspeakers in any one room or adjoining outdoor space
o   There is a cover charge
o   You allow live music or open-mic performances
o   You provide a deejay to play music
o   You allow customers to play their own music devices (such as iPods) through your sound system
Q. I have one license. Doesn’t that cover all the music I play? You can—theoretically—license with just one of the three major companies (BMI, ASCAP and SESAC). But, doing so limits you to using only those titles to which that one company hold the copyrights. While each company has a repertoire of over a million pieces of music, it would be very difficult to play only the music controlled by any one of the music licensing companies. How would you even begin to keep track?

Q. Aren’t TV, cable and radio stations already licensed with BMI? The agreements for broadcasts apply to private use rather than public use. When you broadcast the radio or television in your establishment, it constitutes a “public broadcast” –a public use.
As a member of the LRA, you are eligible for a 20 percent discount on licensing services through BMI.
LRA members get:
·     10 percent discount for being a member of the LRA.
·     An additionally 10 percent discount if you pay for your music licensing through BMI’s website.
In addition to discounts on licensing by BMI, the LRA has other member value programs to help you save:
·         ServSafe food safety and sanitation courses
·         Alcohol server training (bar cards) through Louisiana’s BEST
·         Free admission to the Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO for restaurants.
·         Credit card processing through Heartland Payment Systems
For more information on the various member value programs, call the LRA at (504) 454-2277.

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