No kind of company gathering or event is complete without some background tunes, regardless of the level of formality, but in order to play copyrighted music in a public space, it is key that you first obtain a license.
Guest post by Dan McCarthy
No matter how good is your idea for the next company party, no event is complete without music in the background. This is true regardless of whether it’s a laid-back Christmas party or a formal black tie gala. Here’s the thing that many event planners may not be aware of: you need to obtain a license to play music at any public event. Copyrighted music cannot be legally played in public spaces.
What’s the Deal with Copyrighted Music?
Copyrighted music is under the ownership of the songwriter, composer, or record label. Therefore, event planners need to get legal authorization to use the music for a public outing. Music licensing is represented and enforced by two organizations:
- American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)
- Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI)
These two organizations hold the copyright to 95% of copyrighted music. These orgs are also non-profit entities, and the fees paid by planners go to the music creators.
Event planners more or less need to go through one of these two companies when obtaining a music license for corporate functions. Determine the songs you want to play at the event and visit the two sites to determine which organization those songs fall under.
Why You Shouldn’t Skip the License
Some planners may shrug this whole idea of music licensing as poppycock and forgo the license acquirement. Keep in mind that penalties are stiff and can be up to $30,000 per song. The license is not that hard to acquire and not that expensive either. You can get a Blanket License Agreement that is good for one year. Fees are usually only around $100. You can also acquire a one-time, per-event license for one-off events.
As a final deterrent, keep in mind that your sponsors can also be subject to litigation for copyright infringement.
You are responsible for acquiring the license even if you are hiring a DJ. The DJ may very well take care of the licensing requirement on your behalf, but always double check to be certain.
What Constitutes a Public Event?
An event is public if it’s held in a public space. Events are also considered public if all or a portion of it is transmitted to the public, such as livestreaming on social media or broadcasted through radio or television. An event held privately in the company’s own office, by contrast, does not require a license, unless it’s being broadcasted or filmed and uploaded on social media.
Acquiring a Music Use License
Acquiring a music license for both ASCAP and BMI require you to sign up to become a member. Once you create an account, just follow the steps. The specific license may differ depending on the type of event. It may also differ depending on whether you plan on broadcasting the event. A different license may be required altogether if the event is a festival or concert.
It’s also recommended that you acquire a license for both ASCAP and BMI. If you only get a license for one but not the other, you could end up being liable if the DJ or band end up playing a few songs that are covered by the org you didn’t get a license for. You can get a blanket license for both, and it will cover you for a full year, all at a cost of just around $200 or less.
Yes, it may feel like a nuisance to have to acquire a license to play music in public. However, the license requirements exist to protect the property of songwriters and the record label that represents them. This ensures all parties involved are properly remunerated for their work.
Dan has worked in the event management industry for five years and is currently an event manager for the UK-based company City Nights Disco. His portfolio includes many successful event planning projects for companies across various niches. He is currently a regular contributor for his company’s blog site. Follow him on Twitter at @DanCarthy2.