Background Music Strategy

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Music Licensing Enforcement: How SESAC, GMR, ASCAP & BMI Protect the Rights of Music Creators

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

Many business owners choose to play music in their establishments. It creates ambiance, evokes emotion and even drives consumer behavior. Yet, this seemingly simple addition to the business environment involves a complex web of legal responsibilities. Music isn’t just art. It’s also intellectual property, and playing music without the proper permissions can have real, costly consequences for businesses through music licensing enforcement efforts.

Enter SESAC, GMR, ASCAP and BMI. These performing rights organizations (PROs) serve as the guardians of music rights, ensuring that artists, songwriters and composers are fairly compensated for their creativity and talent.

Music Licensing Enforcement

Understanding the roles and functions of these entities is more than a matter of legal compliance; it’s also about recognizing the value of music and the people who create it. Music isn’t just background noise — it’s an integral part of the customer experience and deserves the respect of proper licensing.

This article will explore the PROs and their music copyright enforcement efforts. We’ll also explain how SiriusXM Music for Business provides an easy alternative to dealing with the PROs and music copyright issues.

A Note About Music Copyright Enforcement

Music copyright enforcement should concern every business that plays music for its customers. Simply downloading a playlist, playing the radio or using your personal streaming account doesn’t give you legal permission to play music in your business. Commercial enterprises must have specific licenses to play music. Otherwise, you could face a music licensing enforcement action costing your business thousands of dollars.

That’s why SiriusXM Music for Business provides such a valuable service. A subscription with us ensures all your music is legal and licensed.

Who Enforces Copyright Laws for Music?

If you’ve ever wondered who is responsible for protecting and enforcing copyright restrictions for music, the answer is simple: It’s the PROs. They act as bridges between businesses and the music industry, streamlining the licensing process and ensuring that music played in commercial settings respects the rights of its creators. While their names might sound like mere acronyms to many, for business owners, they represent assurance, guidance and, sometimes, a line of defense against unintended copyright violations. Here’s a brief rundown of each significant PRO in the United States.

Who Is Responsible For Protecting And Enforcing Copyright Restrictions


ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) was founded in 1914 and is the oldest PRO in the U.S. It’s the only American PRO created and controlled by writers, composers and music publishers. It represents more than 940,000 members and over 18 million compositions.


Founded in 1939, BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) entered the scene to represent songwriters and publishers who were not yet affiliated with existing rights organizations. With a vast and diverse catalog that spans genres and eras, BMI is the largest U.S. PRO. It manages the rights to more than 22 million musical works by 1.4 million songwriters, composers and music publishers.


Established in 1930, SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) primarily began to represent European songwriters in the United States. It licenses over 1 million songs for more than 30,000 members.


A relative newcomer in the field, GMR (Global Music Rights) emerged in 2013 with a fresh perspective on representing songwriters and composers. Its repertoire includes more than 95,000 songs.

Dealing with the various PROs can be confusing. Some songs are licensed by more than one PRO if, for instance, the songwriter belongs to one organization and the composer is a member of another. SiriusXM Music for Business cuts through the confusion. You can rest assured that all the music we offer is appropriately licensed.

Get Answers to Your Music Licensing Enforcement Questions

When you start looking at music licensing enforcement, you can end up with more questions than answers. That’s why we’ve created our music licensing AI bot. Simply type in your question and get the information you’re looking for. SiriusXM Music for Business also offers a comprehensive background music buyers guide, providing crucial details on all the major streaming music services.

Monitoring and Detection

Now that we’ve discussed who enforces copyright laws, let’s examine how they do it. After all, music licensing enforcement actions don’t just pop up out of thin air. Just as businesses rely on music to enhance their customer experience, the PROs employ specific measures to ensure that this usage protects creators’ rights.

Copyright Enforcement

Vigilance Through Visits

One of the PROs’ most direct methods is the good old-fashioned visit. Representatives often drop by various establishments to document the music they play. These visits can be scheduled or surprise checks, ensuring businesses maintain continuous compliance.

The Digital Ear

In our tech-savvy age, digital tracking plays a significant role in monitoring music usage. These organizations have equipped themselves with tools that can identify songs being played in real time, allowing them to cross-check if the establishment holds the required license for that particular track.

The Public’s Role in Protecting Artists

While the PROs are proactive, they also value the public’s voice. Tips, feedback and reports from individuals are pivotal in bringing potential infringements to light. The community becomes an ally in upholding the rights of music creators.

You never know when a PRO might be listening in. That’s why it’s essential to subscribe to a streaming music service like SiriusXM Music for Business. When you partner with us, you know you’re getting legal, fully licensed music.

Music Licensing Enforcement in Action

Music, while an intangible art form, carries tangible responsibilities. When a business sidesteps these responsibilities, the PROs move in to balance the scales. What happens when a company is suspected of playing unlicensed music? Let’s explore the repercussions.

  • Courtesy letters or initial inquiries — When a PRO begins its process, it usually starts with a subtle push. It may send a letter explaining the importance of music licensing, inquiring about the business’s licensing status or offering guidance on securing a license.
  • Infringement notices — If it seems a business is airing music without the needed licenses, the PRO may take things up a notch with an infringement notice. This communication will be more straightforward, highlighting the perceived infraction and emphasizing the urgency to rectify it.
  • Demand letters — This is where matters become grave. If the prior alerts are disregarded or the unauthorized use of music persists, a demand letter could be next. This will unmistakably outline the breaches and call for precise measures, often encompassing the settlement of overdue licensing charges.
  • Legal action and fines — Overlooking these urgent letters can land business owners in court. In this scenario, businesses could be slapped with significant penalties levied on a per-song, per-day basis. Fines start at $750 per infringement and can soar to more than $100,000 if the violation is found to be willful.

There’s no guarantee that a PRO will follow these measures. It could decide to immediately proceed to court without issuing a letter. Music licensing enforcement actions aren’t a hypothetical situation. ASCAP regularly files actions against businesses it believes are infringing against music copyrights.

Copyright Enforcement Music

The SiriusXM Music for Business Advantage

Music copyright enforcement can be a significant worry for businesses that play music without a solid defense. But you can find the peace of mind you want with SiriusXM Music for Business. All the music we offer is legal and licensed for use by businesses. Whether you’re a mom-and-pop shop or a franchise, we simplify the process, ensuring you can play music worry-free.

Plus, we provide an outstanding lineup of musical choices featuring 240+ professionally curated channels and over 10,000 Pandora artist stations. Whatever our musical inclinations, you’ll find a good fit with our offerings. And the cost, at just $26.95 per month, is much more affordable than the often stiff fines for music copyright infringement.

Frequently Asked Questions About Music Licensing Enforcement

As a leading streaming music provider, SiriusXM Music for Business is uniquely situated to provide information about music licensing enforcement. Read the following questions, and feel free to contact us for more details.

Are There Any Benefits or Drawbacks to Playing the Radio Versus Obtaining Separate Licenses From Performing Rights Organizations Like ASCAP or BMI?

Unless your business is under a specific square footage, there is no benefit to playing the radio. For most companies, playing the radio requires a license, just like any other musical performance.

What Happens If You Use Music Without a License?

Using music without a license can result in court action and substantial fines.

How Do I Avoid Paying For Music Licensing?

You can avoid paying for music licensing by playing original compositions or songs in the public domain. However, these can be hard to track down and document.

How Much Does ASCAP Cost Per Year?

ASCAP’s annual fees range from less than $300 to over $35,000. But just having an ASCAP license doesn’t cover all your bases. To be safe, you need a license from each of the major PROs.

Trust Your Streaming Music Needs to SiriusXM Music for Business

Now that you understand more about music licensing enforcement, you’re ready for the next step. Available on a wide range of compatible players, SiriusXM Music for Business offers a convenient, affordable way to play legally licensed music. Plus, we offer a fantastic selection of songs to choose from. Contact us today to learn everything SiriusXM Music for Business can do for you.

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