Music Licensing Services

Lake Jon

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Feb 8, 2021
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Camdenton, MO
I understand the reasons behind BMI and ASCAP, however, I've been to multiple event centers and none of them had any audio/video restrictions, nor were aware of what music licensing was. I talked to a couple DJs and they say it's the event center's responsibility. I had another place say they are a non-profit so they didn't need to pay for anything. Many links I check are old and/or biased, so I was looking for the real scoop on what others are doing when using popular music/videos. I don't think ASCAP would be too expensive for a small place, but subscribing to multiple ones would be.
Thanks.
 

TimMc

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Feb 15, 2017
Hi Jon-

Some of my info is old (like me!) and if I get something wrong the young 'uns will be along to clean up.

What's your role? DJ/VJ for hire? Sound designer for theater? Production provider wondering in you're liable for someone else's violation?

BMI and ASCAP are "rights organizations" that, for a fee, collect and distribute royalties from "compulsory licenses" required of venues that permit the public performance of copyrighted works (and royalties from broadcasting, recording, a couple others). Copyright law is pretty clear - whether or not for profit, compulsory licenses are required. More than 1 license may be required. There are rights licensing organizations set up for the unique needs of houses of worship and IIRC, schools, too.

Generally the venue is responsible for obtaining and maintaining the compulsory licenses, but they are not enjoined from passing those expenses along to their customers. It's common for venues to lump these kinds of general overhead into a 'facility fee' or other generic term.

I'd not expect a privately owned venue to tell a client "no, you can't have a DJ" or "no, you can't show your Little Mermaid DVD" at a kid's party. They don't stay in business saying no, and they'll be fine until they're not. In the case of one bar from my town, an ASCAP agent spent 5 hours drinking coffee and keeping a list of every song played on the bar *stereo system* (not a juke box). The bar was later given the opportunity to purchase a license, which they declined. They were then charged in US District Court with copyright infringement , and when they did not appear, summary judgement was entered for ASCAP. The Court later had to enforce its restitution order by US Marshals seizing the business and auctioning the contents to satisfy judgment. Will it happen? Hard to say. Can it happen? Yes, I've seen it.

Another type of rights is called "grand rights", and those are for uses not qualified under compulsory license. Among these rights is *synchronization*, which goes back to using existing music in a motion picture; later to include TV and video production (and these days, streaming) where "the work" was not the product but a component in another production. So when a beer brand uses a classic rock song, or a pickup truck maker does it, the right to synchronize is a negotiated deal (lawyers, accountants, money). In video games, too... Grand Theft Auto, when you played the radio in the car, those songs (and the original performances used, if any) had to be separately licensed. Also falling under grand rights is the use of a work in a play, say a particular piece of music, or a TV clip visible to the audience.

So whose rights are these, anyway? Rights belong to the creators of "the work." For music that means the composer of the melody and any accompaniment, and the author of the words/lyrics. These people own all rights to their work upon creation; registration is a needed formality (like proving things later). For further information I suggest you listen to The Kinks song "Money Go Round.".. so great, they own a song, what to do with it? Songs need publishers, so songwriters signed up with publishing companies who received 50% of revenue, the remaining 50% split between the composer and author. Publishers did several things over the centuries but all of it involves getting the works in their catalog in front of the public, so sheet music, Edison cylinders and records, radio broadcasting, public performances... all were ways to oil the machine of popular culture.

Copyright law also provides protection for "fixing" of a work on another media; recording a song for sale on a phonorecord (actual legal term) is one manner. In this case the composer and author earn a statutory rate (like a compulsory license) for each copy of their work sold. The performance itself, fixed to the phonorecord, is also a "work" and subject to its own protections (grand rights, among them). The rights of the creators and the rights to the performance are separate. If the creators and performers are the same persons, the better the personal profit... and those separate rights can be sold, leased, or divided without affecting each other. Another example of "fixing" a work would be printing sheet music or producing a digital version from which a live performance could be rendered.
 

josh88

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I understand the reasons behind BMI and ASCAP, however, I've been to multiple event centers and none of them had any audio/video restrictions, nor were aware of what music licensing was. I talked to a couple DJs and they say it's the event center's responsibility. I had another place say they are a non-profit so they didn't need to pay for anything. Many links I check are old and/or biased, so I was looking for the real scoop on what others are doing when using popular music/videos. I don't think ASCAP would be too expensive for a small place, but subscribing to multiple ones would be.
Thanks.
You're right on a few fronts. Lots of places have no idea that they should be paying for the music they are playing or letting be played in their facility. Generally speaking, yeah it is on the venue and most have blanket contracts. With sync license through ASCAP, a regular ASCAP blanket license and a BMI license, we're paying less than $1000 a year. We do it because we're a roadhouse, but we do weddings and award shows and all sorts of other rentals. So it's a convenience to the groups AND we pass off the cost a little at a time in the rental fees. Non Profit orgs are still subject to the same rules. Having worked through this with ASCAP and BMI about a year ago and forcing myself to forget most of that I'd say Timmc's info is still pretty much up to date and correct.
 
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Malabaristo

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Wisconsin
The one point I'll quibble with is the "it's on the venue" idea, since that depends a lot on the type of venue. Bar or club where music is played all the time? Yeah, absolutely. Theatre or other performance venue? It depends, but often not. If it's a place that is primarily used for plays or musicals (where rights have to be individually secured), then they may not have much use for a blanket license. The rental agreement should clearly spell out who is responsible for what--though obviously plenty of people get that wrong. If it's not stated, then asking is always better than assuming.

Also, a common point of confusion: an ASCAP license covers only the music in the ASCAP catalog and a BMI license covers only the music in the BMI catalog. If you get both of them, then you're free to play a whole lot of music--but you're still violating copyright if you play anything that's not in their catalogs. Of course, that category mostly includes smaller, independent artists & labels so they don't have the enforcement reach of the big ones... but you should still be aware of where the boundaries are.
 

What Rigger?

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I checked on the ASCAP site and for a private club the rates are reasonable. They are higher for a bar, but another cost you've got to pay.
That's why it's cheaper to drink at home! Hey o!!!

Anyhoo, Tim and Josh hit a majority of the marks. Yeah, most personnel in a venue/bar/restaraunt, etc... have no idea about licenses for BGM, or halftime music, or (insert use here). I only got hipped to it when I was but a youth and had "Keeper/wrangler/tracker of the BGM tapes" (yes....cassettes!) added to my responsibilities for the permanently moored ocean liner I was also the Stage Manager for and sort of drifted into the topic with a F&B manager who was the one who kept the license for the property current.
 

cbrandt

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Dec 7, 2011
Location
Michigan
The one point I'll quibble with is the "it's on the venue" idea, since that depends a lot on the type of venue. Bar or club where music is played all the time? Yeah, absolutely. Theatre or other performance venue? It depends, but often not. If it's a place that is primarily used for plays or musicals (where rights have to be individually secured), then they may not have much use for a blanket license. The rental agreement should clearly spell out who is responsible for what--though obviously plenty of people get that wrong. If it's not stated, then asking is always better than assuming.

Also, a common point of confusion: an ASCAP license covers only the music in the ASCAP catalog and a BMI license covers only the music in the BMI catalog. If you get both of them, then you're free to play a whole lot of music--but you're still violating copyright if you play anything that's not in their catalogs. Of course, that category mostly includes smaller, independent artists & labels so they don't have the enforcement reach of the big ones... but you should still be aware of where the boundaries are.
@Malabaristo makes a very good point here that you should look at. We did an Xmas show this year, and we had a lot of hoops to jump through to make sure we were only using licensed music. It can be very confusing to search through the catalogs and find things that you both want, and are licensed with the company you have a contract.
 
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Lextech

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Location
Virginia
The one point I'll quibble with is the "it's on the venue" idea, since that depends a lot on the type of venue. Bar or club where music is played all the time? Yeah, absolutely. Theatre or other performance venue? It depends, but often not. If it's a place that is primarily used for plays or musicals (where rights have to be individually secured), then they may not have much use for a blanket license. The rental agreement should clearly spell out who is responsible for what--though obviously plenty of people get that wrong. If it's not stated, then asking is always better than assuming.
As a person whose university is crazy about legal everything, I must add to to this. While a touring play or musical act make have a license for all music played within the event, almost none of them has a license for walkin/out and intermission music. That is where the venue license comes into play. We have a blanket and get rights for every show we produce in house. Luckily I am not the one who has the job of securing rights for the dance students, because then you are Interpreting that piece and it can add a whole layer of fun.
 

ACTSTech

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Location
USA
I'm still not clear on when a license is needed because, to be frank, the companies often aren't sure. When we do a musical, part of the rental is the ability to sell tickets to an audience and perform the musical in front of the audience. We don't record or broadcast, but that would be different rights.

When we have a voice studio perform, I've had responses all over the map. From one major company, I've been told that no, you can't perform the song in front of a paying audience to yes, you can perform the song but without choreography to you are free to perform it because you purchased the music to someone even saying "I have no idea honestly." Even then, trying to figure out who the rights belong to can be a struggle. I was told Gilbert and Sullivan was public domain, but was then contacted and told that they are NOT in the public domain for recording rights. Then when we tried to license them, we were told they ARE public domain. After research, they're kind of public domain but if you rent the orchestrations, then they are not technically public domain. It's a lot to think about.

If anyone has any tips about programming a pops concert/musical review and how to secure rights, I'd appreciate some tips
 

TimFrancis

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Mar 12, 2015
Location
Texas
Intellectual Property for Producing Theatres by Matt Davis outlines the core principles of copyright (and other protections that are often mistaken for copyright) to give the reader an understanding of the terminology and basis for each protection.
I don't have my copy in front of me but one or two chapters discuss music (ASCAP, BMI, etc.)

Here is a document from aact.org (American Association of Community Theatre) that claims to explain a legal way to create a musical review (songs from musicals...not pop tunes).
 

Malabaristo

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Location
Wisconsin
I'm still not clear on when a license is needed
The short version is that a license is always needed (unless the copyright has expired). Where it gets complicated is that there are a ridiculous number of different kinds of licenses and different paths for getting them. Some licenses are free under certain circumstances, so all you have to do is meet the requirements (non-commercial use being a common example). Sometimes a license to perform is included when you buy sheet music, but that may not cover mechanical or synchronization rights--not to mention derivative work if you want to do your own arrangement... Basically, this stuff is complicated, so you have every right to be confused by it.

Not helping matters is that there is a ton of misinformation that is circulated as fact. I'd go so far as to say that the majority of times you hear people talking about "fair use" you're probably hearing something that is not 100% accurate. That's been my experience anyway--especially in an educational setting.

Unfortunately, if you're doing something that isn't clearly covered by one of the blanket licenses or isn't available pre-packaged from someone like MTI, then you're stuck doing the work of tracking down who actually owns the rights to every individual work you want to use and figuring out what the terms of each license is going to be for your situation. Finding that information is usually a frustrating and very time-consuming process.
 

ACTSTech

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Location
USA
One way to track down the rights holders is to post online that you're doing the show and wait for their bot to find you. This technique may or may not be based upon a true, but mostly harmless story.
There was a fundraiser not too long ago for a church that did their performances all online. They didn't charge to watch it live streamed, but asked that if you felt moved by the music, to donate. It was done very nice, the video editing was seamless and the sound quality was pretty good for just a pair of 4040s in the venue. They felt it was a very good fundraiser after they got the donations.

Then they got the letter regarding royalties. The engineer told me he assumed it would be covered under the CCLI. The organizers never thought about rights because tickets weren't sold. After they reached a settlement and took down the recording, it wasn't such a good fundraiser after all.
 

sk8rsdad

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My story is much more mild. Over 20 years ago we did a few one act plays for a training workshop. One of the plays came from an anthology that was out of print. We tried to track down the playwright through the publisher but the publisher was out of business. Anyway, one of the actors posted something on their personal web site (pre-mySpace). The playwright contacted him. The email exchange was basically "We're sorry. How much would you like?" She said $50 bucks and we mailed her a cheque. Artists deserve to be compensated.
 

josh88

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Then they got the letter regarding royalties. The engineer told me he assumed it would be covered under the CCLI. The organizers never thought about rights because tickets weren't sold. After they reached a settlement and took down the recording, it wasn't such a good fundraiser after all.
And see BMI specifically told us there were certain scenarios just like that where because we have our regular license, youtube and facebooks license would cover our usage if we were to livestream. But if we did it through vimeo THEN we'd need a secondary sync license. I feel like the people selling/writing these contracts are still lost/in the dark/unsure/or just don't care because the answers and circular emails we went through were constantly changing.
 

ACTSTech

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And see BMI specifically told us there were certain scenarios just like that where because we have our regular license, youtube and facebooks license would cover our usage if we were to livestream. But if we did it through vimeo THEN we'd need a secondary sync license. I feel like the people selling/writing these contracts are still lost/in the dark/unsure/or just don't care because the answers and circular emails we went through were constantly changing.
We're going around in circles at the moment with Concord over this, because they don't know the answer. It's frustrating for all of us, because we all want to do our jobs (licensers included) but we don't want to get slammed later. They're tripped up with the language and how to license it over number of songs. And I don't blame them because when you read the restrictions, they aren't clear.
 

Malabaristo

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Wisconsin
And see BMI specifically told us there were certain scenarios just like that where because we have our regular license, youtube and facebooks license would cover our usage if we were to livestream. But if we did it through vimeo THEN we'd need a secondary sync license. I feel like the people selling/writing these contracts are still lost/in the dark/unsure/or just don't care because the answers and circular emails we went through were constantly changing.
This is an interesting example because Youtube and Facebook have very strict and automated systems for monitoring copyright. There have been cases where streamed events with the actual, big name, artist playing their own music got strikes on Youtube because it takes very specific action on their part to whitelist a particular stream. Whether or not you have a license to use the material, there are extra hoops to jump through to actually get around those automated systems. From what I've heard, Vimeo is less proactive about policing copyright, so you're less likely to be challenged (whether or not you actually have the rights).
 

urban79

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My experience with YouTube has been that since they monetize videos on their platform, that seems to satisfy the rights holders. The ad stream revenue goes to the rights holders and the video stays up (I believe this is a more recent change.). On the other hand, Facebook is notorious for muting videos when it detects copyrighted material - right down to the background music in tourists home videos of Walt Disney World...
 

josh88

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This is an interesting example because Youtube and Facebook have very strict and automated systems for monitoring copyright. There have been cases where streamed events with the actual, big name, artist playing their own music got strikes on Youtube because it takes very specific action on their part to whitelist a particular stream. Whether or not you have a license to use the material, there are extra hoops to jump through to actually get around those automated systems. From what I've heard, Vimeo is less proactive about policing copyright, so you're less likely to be challenged (whether or not you actually have the rights).
Absolutely their algorithms catch stuff left and right. Even when you do have the rights you've got to then show them you had the rights, but there's something about the license they have with BMI at least that covers them for the stuff they don't catch. We ended up going a different route with things so I didn't push BMI about what happens when their system does catch you and shutdown a stream or pull the music, but in most cases the issue even after you get flagged just effects whether or not the stream will be able to be replayed afterwards and whether or not they leave that section of the video muted.

This of course was before BMI redirected us to one of their "digital licensing representatives" who then proceeded to give different advice.
 

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