A common misunderstanding among business owners is that songwriters are only compensated by the purchase of their CDs, so that a business owner can freely play copyrighted music for customers. The reality of the situation is that songwriters receive most of their compensation from public performances, so that business owners may be responsible for obtaining a license from a performing rights organization before being able to play copyrighted music in public. Some courts have defined public uses of music as:

  • Radio stations
  • Bars, restaurants, night clubs, and juke box operators
  • Hotels that play the radio for guests through speakers or headphones
  • Stores
  • Telephone intercom systems that play music while callers are on hold

The Fairness in Music Licensing Act

The Fairness in Music Licensing Act draws a line between private and public use by defining in terms the type of public establishment, the size of the public establishment, and the stereo equipment being used:

  • Restaurants and bars that are under 3,750 square feet or retailers under 2,000 square feet are considered exempt from paying fees for playing music for their customers
  • Public places that play the radio are exempt from paying fees if no more than four speakers in each room are being used to play music
  • Charging admission may make you subject to a license fee

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Am a Business Owner and Would Like to Play Music for Customers?

Because copyright law and the Fairness in Music Licensing Act are complex, you should consult with a lawyer to see whether your business is exempt from paying fees. If needed, a lawyer can help you obtain a license from a performing rights organization so that you can play music legally for your customers.