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Digital Music Players Lure Customers, But Need BMI License When Played for Public

Posted in News on December 12, 2006

With digital music players becoming mainstream around the world, it's only natural that many American bar, nightclub and restaurant owners are welcoming MP3 players into their establishments as an edgy, easy form of entertainment.

Since the iPod's introduction in October 2001, Apple has sold more than 70 million of the devices, and the iPod now commands more than a 70 percent share of the U.S. market for digital music players, also known as MP3 players. The device has become a standard accessory for young adults. Many clubs now feature "iPod Nights," letting customers take turns as DJ. Those wishing to participate add their name to a list and wait their turn. When it comes, each is given 15 minutes or so of fame to play whatever they want. Some patrons enjoy hearing songs they won't find anywhere else, or sampling other peoples' taste in music. More conservative proprietors require customers to choose songs from a playlist of approved tunes selected by the house.

iPod nights have become a digital form of karaoke. Sometimes, customers are permitted to play narratives or even videos from their personal collection. Some customers enjoy hearing sounds they won't find on radio or sampling unusual musical preferences of others. Of course, there's no guarantee that one customer's musical taste will appeal to anybody else, but at least one person will be happy.

"Playing music from iPods in a business or other public place requires the permission of the songwriters, regardless of who owns the playback device," said Tom Annastas, BMI Vice President, General Licensing.

"From a copyright perspective, playing music and video from a pocket digital player is no different from using other playback technology," Annastas continued. "Regardless of who owns the player or the contents of the device, when it is played for a group other than a family and its social acquaintances, it becomes a public performance. Such a performance requires a BMI license for the works owned by BMI songwriters.

"Business owners who are licensed by BMI to play recorded copyrighted music will face no additional cost with the use of iPods or other digital devices," added Annastas.