Music Moves Our World
Music Licensing FAQs
BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) is an American performing rights organization that represents songwriters, composers and music publishers. Often called PRO’s, performing rights organizations collect licensing fees from businesses that use music, including television and radio stations; websites, broadcast and cable networks; the Internet and mobile technologies; satellite radio services such as Sirius XM; nightclubs, hotels, bars, restaurants, breweries, colleges, fitness facilities, live concerts and many other industries. The fees that BMI collects are then distributed as royalties to the songwriters, composers, and music publishers we represent. BMI has been in operation for more than 80 years, is recognized in U.S. copyright law as a licensor of music, and currently represents more than 1.3 million copyright owners and their over 20.6 million works.
A BMI license provides businesses with the legal authorization needed to use a very powerful product: music. This product is the music creator’s property, so a licensing agreement protects your business or organization from the penalties involved in copyright infringement. This service also saves music users the immense time and expense of contacting each songwriter, composer, or publisher for permission to play their music publicly, and your payment ensures the continued creation of music – for you and your business.
Under federal copyright law, when copyrighted music is performed in any establishment, regardless of whether it’s on TVs, radio, recorded, streamed, on a jukebox or performed by a live band, DJ or karaoke, the business owner must obtain permission from the copyright owner. In most cases, that permission comes in the form of a music license.
A “public performance” of music is defined in U.S. copyright law to include any music played outside a normal circle of friends and family that occurs in any public place. A public performance also occurs when music is transmitted to the public, via radio, TV broadcasts, digital service providers, and any other means. Songwriters, composers, and music publishers have the exclusive right to play their music publicly and to authorize others to do so under the copyright law. This is known as the “Performing Right.” This right was designed to enable and encourage music creators to receive compensation for the music they create. BMI only licenses performing rights and does not license mechanical or synchronization rights. For more information on performing rights, click here.
Q: How does a business owner know if they are playing BMI Music? What songs are in BMI’s repertoire?
Currently, BMI represents the public performance rights in over 20.6 million musical works created and owned by more than 1.3 million songwriters, composers and music publishers in all genres of music. You can search the entire repertoire of music by song title, artist, songwriter, composer or publisher, including songs that are 100% BMI, at https://www.bmi.com/special/songview.
Songview is a data platform developed by ASCAP and BMI, the nation’s two largest performance rights organizations (PROs), to provide the public with a comprehensive view of ownership shares for the vast majority of works licensed in the United States. With Songview integrated into our databases, ASCAP and BMI are able to display more detailed, authoritative and consistent copyright ownership data for performing rights for over 20 million songs in our combined repertoires. The information is accessible on both the ASCAP and BMI websites for free, and you can tailor your search for the information that you want. For more information on Songview, click here.
If a business plays music but does not have a music license in place, BMI tries to work with those business owners to ensure that they have the permission they need to publicly perform music, which enhances the overall customer experience and adds value to businesses everywhere. BMI actively works to educate businesses about the value that music brings to their establishment, the requirements of copyright law, and the importance of maintaining a music license. After several attempts have been made to reach the business owner through phone calls and letters, an in-person visit might occur.
The annual rate depends on the type of business. BMI works with the various industries that use music to come up with specific licenses that meet the needs of each business. For example, rates for restaurants, nightclubs, bars and similar establishments depend on whether the music is live or recorded, whether it’s audio only or audio visual, the number of nights per week music is offered, whether admission is charged and several other factors. Each market is different however, so check with a BMI representative for more information on licensing fees.
Q: If I have TV’s or play radio stations in my business, do I still need a BMI license? Aren’t TV, cable, and radio stations already licensed with BMI?
Yes, but those agreements do not authorize the performance of TV, cable and radio to the public by businesses and other organizations. However, there are certain exemptions provided by copyright law, including the size of your establishment, how many TVs you have in each room, their screen size, how many speakers you have and if you charge a cover charge. Contact a BMI Representative to learn if these uses need to be licensed for your business.
Q: Are the musicians, DJ’s and entertainers responsible for obtaining the necessary music licenses for their public performances?
Since it’s the business or organization that’s benefiting from the performance of music, BMI offers a license to the owner of the establishment to ensure that the business or organization is properly licensed. This responsibility cannot be passed on to anyone else even if the musicians hired are independent contractors.
The term “original music” generally means musical works written by the performing musicians. That doesn’t mean, however, that the musicians are not affiliated with BMI. This is because licensing organizations like BMI are the vehicles through which songwriters and composers are compensated for the public performances of their music. In addition, one of the purposes of BMI is to help foster the development of up-and-coming songwriters, many of whom perform in public. Many times, these performers are asked to play a song known by the general public that was written by someone else, like a cover song. This performance also requires permission.
Q: If a business has a license with another performing right organization (PRO), do they still need to license with BMI?
Yes. A music license with another performing right organization allows you only to perform copyrighted music represented by that organization. It does not cover public performances of the award-winning music licensed by BMI. This is because each songwriter or composer may belong to only one performing right organization at any given time, so each PRO licenses a unique repertoire of music.
Q: We pay for music from a playlist on Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music. Isn’t it ours to play anywhere?
Although your digital music subscription gives you access to an enormous catalog of music, it does not provide the necessary copyright clearance to play those songs in a public setting. Once you decide to play any copyrighted music publicly, you need permission from the copyright owners.
Public performance fees are the principal source of income for music creators who many times, are not the artists who recorded their songs. For this reason, they are entitled under copyright law to be fairly compensated for their work. It is BMI’s mission to ensure these music creators can continue earn a living while creating music that we all enjoy. Collecting licensing fees is the major component of that support.
Q: If a venue is playing music publicly without the necessary permission, will BMI take legal action?
Legal action is taken only as a last resort. Our approach is to try and educate business owners about the value that music brings to their establishment, the requirements of copyright law, and the importance of securing and maintaining a music license for as long as music is used. If a business doesn’t have a music license already in place, BMI works with those business owners to determine their music needs and ensure that they are protected and not in violation of copyright.
Your licensing fee goes to BMI’s affiliated songwriters, composers and music publishers in the form of royalties. Your payment supports the continued creation of music, which enhances the overall experience for your customers.