Playing Music in Workplace Requires Permission From Copyright Owners

Posted in News on May 9, 2003
Much as companies guard their trademarks, products and patents, songwriters own copyrighted musical works and seek lawful compensation when others use them.

Music often is used to create a more pleasant atmosphere for customers and to increase employee productivity. When music is played in the workplace without the permission of copyright owners, songwriters are short-changed on their paychecks. That's because under U.S. Copyright Law, those who compose music have the exclusive right of performing or playing those songs in public. According to law, a public performance occurs when music is played at "any place where a substantial number of persons outside a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered."

BMI, an organization that represents most of America's songwriters, composers and music publishers, has been defending the rights of those copyright owners since 1940. Operating on a non-profit basis, BMI educates American business about its responsibility toward songwriters and composers.

"It's beneficial for companies to add music to appropriate work areas, lobbies, meetings, training sessions, break-rooms, telephone systems and office parties," said Tom Annastas, Vice President, General Licensing at BMI. "Sometimes, however, the managers of these companies don't know they're legally required to license music before playing it."

Most companies have strict policies against installing unlicensed software on office computers. Because music surrounds many Americans much of the day, some take it for granted, giving little thought to similar federal law that prohibits the use of unlicensed music in many places outside the home or car. "The law distinguishes between a private performance of copyrighted music and a public performance," said Annastas. "Music played in a company setting, whether recorded or live, is defined as public and must be licensed. Purchasing a CD does not convey that right."

Representing approximately 300,000 copyright owners with a repertoire of approximately 4.5 million musical works from around the world, BMI provides copyright clearance for more than half the music played in America. While companies using music may legally license individual songs directly from copyright owners, Annastas said the vast majority finds a blanket agreement from BMI easier and more economical.

"We make compliance with copyright law simple and cost-effective," said Annastas. "Our Business Multiple Use license was designed with the typical corporation in mind. One annual agreement covers the use of CDs, tapes, music-on-hold, music in health facilities within the company, and live entertainment at on-premise and some off-premise functions. The size of their fee is determined by number of employees, so it works for every company, no matter how small or large their organization."

The Better Business Bureau publishes a helpful brochure for business owners called "Music in the Marketplace."