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15 Minute Read

Received A Music Licensing Infringement Notice? What to Expect from SESAC, GMR, ASCAP & BMI Infringement Claims

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

So, you’ve been playing your favorite tunes at your business, creating a lively atmosphere for your customers, when you get a music licensing notice accusing you of copyright infringement. First off, don’t panic. Let’s break down what this means.

Music isn’t just a collection of sounds; it’s the result of someone’s hard work and creativity. Every time a song plays, the people behind it – from songwriters to performers – deserve recognition and compensation. That’s where music licensing comes in. It’s the official way businesses get permission to play songs, ensuring that those who create the music get fair compensation.

Music Licensing Notice

This article will answer the question, “What is licensed music?” We’ll also explore how music licensing works, what to do if you get a notice and where to turn to ensure you don’t infringe on music copyrights. Let’s begin.

Understanding Music Licensing Notices

Imagine receiving a music licensing notice. What does it mean, and how should you handle it?

Performance rights organizations (PROs) are responsible to their members: the songwriters, composers and publishers. To ensure their members get their due compensation, PROs have systems in place to monitor businesses. They might use field agents, research or even technology to identify establishments playing music without proper licenses.

Music Licensing

Navigating the Different Types of Notices

  • Courtesy letters or initial inquiries — A PRO’s first step is often a gentle nudge. They might send a letter informing a business about music licensing, asking about its current licensing situation or providing information on obtaining a license.
  • Infringement notices — If there’s reason to believe a business is playing music without the necessary licenses, the PRO might escalate things with an infringement notice. This letter will be more direct, pointing out the suspected violation and the need for immediate action.
  • Demand letters — This is where things get serious. If previous notices have gone unanswered or unlicensed music use continues, a demand letter might be the next step. It will clearly state the violations and demand specific actions, often including payment of past licensing fees.
  • Legal action and potential penalties — Ignoring demand letters can lead to legal battles. If it comes to this, businesses might face hefty fines, and in some cases, these fines can be per song, per day. It’s a costly risk to take.

Copyright infringement cases in music are not uncommon. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) files actions against businesses every year.

Responding to Music Licensing Notices

If you receive a music licensing notice, you definitely have recourse. Here are some common-sense tips on what you can do. This isn’t legal advice. You should speak to an attorney for that.

  • Don’t ignore — The worst thing a business can do is toss the notice in the bin. These letters are not mere suggestions; they have legal implications.
  • Review and understand — Take a moment to understand the notice’s content. What is the PRO asking for? What potential violations are mentioned?
  • Seek counsel — Especially for more severe notices, it might be wise to consult with a legal professional who specializes in intellectual property or music licensing.
  • Open a line of communication — Being proactive can go a long way. Reach out to the PRO, discuss the notice and show a willingness to resolve the issue.
  • Get licensed — If your business isn’t already licensed, now’s the time. Remember, having a personal Spotify or Apple Music subscription doesn’t mean you have a license to play music in a commercial setting.

What Is Licensed Music?

You might think, “I have a Spotify account, so I can play music wherever I want, right?” Not quite. Let’s break down the layers of a song to understand the world of music licensing better.

When we talk about a song, we often merge several different creative works into one idea in our minds. But legally and creatively, they’re separate entities.

  • Recorded music: This is the actual sound recording, the version of a song you hear on the radio or stream on Spotify. It’s performed by artists and produced in studios. Think of it as the “sound” of the song.
  • Musical compositions: Dive deeper, and you have the underlying musical composition. This consists of the melody, rhythm and harmony – the song’s core, which might be represented in sheet music.
  • Lyrics: Separate from the musical composition are the lyrics or words of the song. They’re the poetic expression that gives voice to the melody.

Each of these elements – the recording, the composition and the lyrics – has its own set of rights. When you stream a song on Spotify or another platform, you purchase the right to listen to that recording for personal enjoyment. But if you want to play that song in your business or use it in other public ways, you need different permissions or licenses for those specific rights.

Music Licensing and Performance Rights Organizations

What is licensed music

Ever wondered how that catchy tune from the radio made its way to the speakers at your favorite café? Or why there’s a specific playlist at the gym? That’s all thanks to music licensing.

In simple terms, music licensing is getting permission to use someone else’s music in a particular way. It’s like renting a song for specific purposes, whether it’s for background music in a store or at a public event. Licensing ensures that the people who created that song — from the lyricists to the musicians — are fairly compensated for their work.

The need for music licensing isn’t something new. As the music industry evolved and technology progressed, it became evident that creators needed protection for their work. Enter PROs. These organizations were set up as a response to the challenge of tracking where and how music was played and ensuring creators received their due.

Historically, as music found its way onto radios and public spaces, songwriters and composers needed a system to collect their royalties. This led to the establishment of organizations like ASCAP in 1914. As the industry grew, other major PROs, such as BMI, SESAC, and, more recently, GMR, came into the picture, each with its unique approach and representation.

Understanding music licensing and the role of these PROs is crucial for businesses. They act as intermediaries between the music creators and users, streamlining the process of acquiring permissions and ensuring everyone gets a fair deal.

Get the Music Licensing Answers You Need

SiriusXM Music for Business has created a helpful answer bot to handle your music licensing questions. Just type your query into the box and hit enter, and you’ll get the answer you need. We also have a definitive comparison of business music streaming services to help you identify which is best for your needs. Download our comparison today.

Music Licensing Rights for Business Owners

Music, at its core, is a form of artistic expression, and like any other artwork, it has rights associated with it. If you’re a business owner, understanding these music licensing rights is crucial. The different types of music rights are:

  • Mechanical rights — Think of a “machine” making copies. Whenever a song gets reproduced – for CDs, vinyl or even digital downloads – the holder of the mechanical rights needs to be compensated. For example, if you’re making a cover album of popular songs, you’d need to secure these rights.
  • Synchronization rights — Ever seen a movie scene perfectly matched to a song’s mood? That synchronization between visual media and music needs a special license. From movies to TV commercials to video games, any time music and visuals pair up, sync rights come into play.
  • Public performance rights — This one’s significant for businesses. Playing music in a public space, like a café, gym or retail store, requires this license. It’s not limited to live performances; even online streaming or radio broadcasts fall under this category.

It’s easy to assume that buying a song or streaming it from your personal account gives you the green light to use it however you like. However, this isn’t the case. Playing a purchased song in your shop or using a streaming service meant for personal use can be a copyright infringement. It’s a common oversight and can land businesses in unintended legal waters.

How Does Music Licensing Work?

With all this talk about the importance of music licensing, you might wonder, “How does it all come together?” Let’s look at the process.

Copyright Infringement Cases In Music

The PROs are the glue that holds music licensing together. They act as a bridge between businesses wanting to play music and the creators of that music. These organizations oversee vast repertoires of songs, and their primary goal is to ensure that creators receive fair compensation for the use of their works.

Given the sheer number of songs played in businesses daily, tracking individual licenses would be a logistical nightmare. Instead, PROs offer blanket licenses, allowing businesses to play anything from the PRO’s extensive catalog for a set fee. It simplifies the process for businesses and ensures rights holders get paid.

This is the opposite of direct licenses. Sometimes, businesses strike deals directly with songwriters or music publishers. This can be more common for specific uses, like a particular song in a major advertising campaign, where the business wants to negotiate terms directly with the rights holders.

Once a business pays for a license, where does that money go? PROs have systems to track where and how often songs are played. Based on this data, they distribute royalties to songwriters, composers and publishers. So, when your café plays a hit song, part of your licensing fee eventually makes its way to the people who crafted that tune, ensuring they’re rewarded for their creativity and hard work.

Frequently Asked Questions About Music Licensing Notices

As a leading provider of streaming music for businesses, SiriusXM Music for Business is well-positioned to answer your questions about music licensing notices. Read on to learn more.

Do You Need Permission to Play a Song at an Event?

Generally speaking, you need a license to publicly perform a song.

What Music Can I Play Without a License?

You can play music in the public domain without a license. This is typically music that was created before 1922.

Can I Play Spotify at a Public Event?

You can’t play music from your personal Spotify account at a public event. This is a violation of their terms of service and an infringement on copyright law.

Trust Your Music Streaming Needs to SiriusXM Music for Business

Not interested in tracking down all the PROs for the music licenses you need? Do you never want to worry about getting a music licensing notice? SiriusXM Music for Business is the answer you’re looking for. We offer thousands of music streaming options, all legally licensed for play in your business. You also get your choice of compatible devices to stream your music. Contact us today to take advantage of everything we offer.

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