Background Music Strategy

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Music Copyright Infringement Penalty: Consequences of Streaming Music without Proper Licensing

by Ryan Santangelo, Ph.D., Co-Founder & CEO, Dynamic Media

Imagine setting the perfect mood in your business with carefully curated music, only to receive a music copyright infringement notice despite the numerous compliments from customers on your choice of tunes. In today’s digital age, the lines of music copyright have become increasingly blurred, making understanding these rights essential. With the ease of access to vast music libraries, there’s been a significant rise in unlicensed music usage, catching many unaware.

Music Copyright Infringement Penalty

This article will explore how music copyright violations occur and what copyright infringement penalty you might receive for playing unlicensed music.

Defining Music Copyright Terms

As a business owner or manager playing music in your establishment, you must be aware of music licensing regulations. If you don’t play by the rules, you’re likely to receive a music copyright infringement penalty, which can be costly. Here are some definitions to help you understand the nuances of music copyright violations:

Music Copyright Infringement
  • Music copyright license — To use copyrighted music legally, one must secure a music copyright license, usually issued by a performing rights organization (PRO). There are various types of licenses, each tailored for different uses. For instance, a synchronization license allows music to be paired with visual media, like films or TV shows. Businesses that play music need a public performance license, which grants permission to play, broadcast or stream copyrighted music.
  • Unlicensed music — This term refers to music used without obtaining a license. The implications of using unlicensed music can be severe. From a creator’s perspective, it denies them the rightful earnings and recognition for their work. For users, whether individuals or corporations, playing unlicensed music can lead to legal ramifications and hefty fines.
  • Music copyright infringement — At its core, music copyright infringement occurs when someone uses copyrighted music without obtaining the necessary permissions or licenses. The music industry, with its artists, producers and record labels, heavily relies on copyrights to protect their creative endeavors and secure revenue. Infringing these rights not only impacts the industry’s economic dynamics but also undermines the value of creative work.
  • Licensing infringement — For the purposes of our article, a music licensing infringement is the same as a music copyright infringement.

Let’s be clear: If you don’t have a music copyright license, you can be hit with a copyright infringement penalty even if you’re “just” playing music on the radio or music incidentally occurs on a television you have running. Playing music from your personal streaming account isn’t a solution. Doing so violates the streaming service’s terms and copyright law.

Unlicensed music

What Happens If You Violate Music Copyright?

If you’re caught playing unlicensed music and violating copyright law, there’s usually a process that the PROs go through:

  • Courtesy letters — Pros often start with a simple letter explaining what music licensing is and how to obtain a license.
  • Music copyright Infringement notices — When a PRO believes you’re playing unlicensed music, it could issue a music copyright infringement notice, identifying the suspected violation and requiring action.
  • Demand letters — If you continue to play unlicensed music and ignore previous notices, a demand letter might come next. This step clearly outlines the music copyright infringement and demands certain actions, such as paying past licensing fees.
  • Legal action — If you ignore the demand letters, you’ll likely face a court battle. The PROs routinely win these actions, resulting in often hefty fines for businesses playing unlicensed music.

This is simply the PROs’ typical course of action. There’s nothing that prevents them from taking you straight to court if they believe you’re guilty of music copyright infringement.

You must pay attention to the PROs’ notices if you want to avoid a music copyright infringement penalty. Carefully read the notice to understand the exact accusations. Contact the PRO to see how you can resolve the issue. You should also consider consulting with an attorney skilled in intellectual property and music licensing issues. They’re best positioned to provide the advice you need when you receive a music copyright infringement notice.

Avoid Music Copyright Infringement Hassles With SiriusXM Music for Business

When you sign up for our streaming music service, you know you don’t have to worry about music copyright infringement. All our music is licensed and completely legal to play. Plus, we offer a broad array of resources to help you navigate these sometimes murky issues. If you have specific questions, check out our music licensing answer bot. We also provide a Music Buyers Guide with a comprehensive comparison of streaming music services to help you identify the best choice for your business.

How Much Is a Copyright Fine?

If you’re wondering, “How much is a copyright fine?” the total can add up quickly. As Chapter 5 of the U.S. Copyright Law outlines, businesses found guilty of music copyright infringement can face steep fines.

Depending on the infringement’s nature and willfulness, statutory damages can vary from $750 to $30,000 per work infringed upon. However, if the court determines that the licensing infringement was committed willfully, the amount can soar up to $150,000 for each piece infringed.

Violation of Copyright Laws

Beyond statutory damages, businesses may also be liable for any actual damages suffered by the copyright holder due to the infringement, as well as any profits attributable to the licensing infringement that weren’t already taken into account under the statutory damages.

It’s crucial to note that these penalties can compound quickly, especially if multiple works are involved. For instance, using several copyrighted songs without permission in one evening could result in numerous counts of licensing infringement, with each piece carrying its own set of potential penalties.

The PROs regularly file court complaints against businesses they believe play unlicensed music. In 2023, BMI, the largest PRO, sought action against an Arizona pub for playing six unlicensed songs, and ASCAP, the oldest PRO, filed 13 separate actions based on suspected music copyright infringement. These are just some examples of ASCAP and BMI lawsuits. The PROs take the violation of copyright law seriously and send out agents in charge of reporting music copyright infringement.

Frequently Asked Questions About Music Copyright Infringement Penalties

SiriusXM Music for Business understands your concerns about playing unlicensed music, and we’re here to answer your questions about music copyright infringement penalties. Read the following for additional details.

What Are the Legal Implications of Playing Radio Stations in My Business?

Playing radio stations without the appropriate licenses can lead to court action and fines for your business.

Can Playing the Radio Lead to Copyright Infringement Issues for My Business?

If you don’t have the necessary licenses, your business can face accusations of music copyright infringement for playing the radio.

What Happens If You Accidentally Infringe Copyright?

If you ignore the PROs’ notices, you can still end up in court even if your music copyright infringement was accidental.

Turn to SiriusXM Music for Business for Your Streaming Music Needs

Why risk a music copyright infringement penalty when you can set the perfect mood for your business with SiriusXM Music for Business? Our streaming music service offers thousands of legally licensed options on the compatible device of your choice, all for an affordable $26.95 per month. Contact us today to see what we can do for you.

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