Music licensing law affects operators who play music for the public in their lodging properties or restaurants. Created to protect the rights of music composers the U.S. Copyright law has special implications for our industry. Under Title 17 of the law the “public performance” of copyrighted music requires permission from the copyright owner or its licensing agent. Here’s the bottom line: restaurants hotels motels inns B&Bs motels and resorts that use music as background or for live performance in any manner are as a general rule liable for royalties under the Copyright Law. The law treats music used in a public place as a public performance even if there is no direct charge!
How do you obtain permission to provide music for your guests? This is generally done through licensing societies. The largest two of which are the American Society of Composers Artists and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). A smaller organization the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) represents a few artists primarily in the areas of classical gospel and country music. In order to comply with the law most hospitality operators will need to secure blanket licensing agreements with both ASCAP and BMI because each organization covers a separate slate of artists.
Click here to access ASCAP’s fact sheet.
Click here to access BMI’s fact sheet. There you’ll also find a downloadable BMI agreement (PDF format).
Generally a television or radio in your guest room does not constitute a “public performance” and is not subject to music licensing. This is related to Section 110(5) of the copyright law which exempts from the law the transmission of copyrighted music on “a single receiving apparatus commonly used in private homes” if there is no direct charge to hear the music and if the music is not further transmitted. If a lodging establishment qualified for that exemption — that is the operator plays only radio music and uses only homestyle equipment to do so — a copyright license may not be required. Similarly if the operator has only one TV of the size commonly used in private homes no license is required. The law however while not entirely clear appears to exempt only one unit — one radio or TV but not both. Court cases in this regard have considered both the size of the business and the type of equipment used. This is an area in which to exert extreme caution. You may wish to consult with legal counsel regarding clarification of the homestyle exemption.