If you own a restaurant, playing music over a sound system is usually a given to help bring some atmosphere to the surroundings. While live entertainment can help fill that bill if you have the money to pay them, any recordings you use may be material copyrighted a long time ago. Even if you play a particular type of music to establish a certain theme, those recordings likely have an applicable copyright. For years, though, restaurants have played these recordings in their restaurants without realizing they need a license in order to play them publicly.
To some, this may not make sense when you aren’t selling the recordings outright for profit. But when the music is used in the context of making your business profitable, it’s still considered to be public use for profit and requires that you contact the owner of the recordings for licensing. The expense of this has been why so many restaurants have avoided it with the thought it didn’t matter. Many new restaurants simply act like they’re unaware, either true or not.
No matter if they’re doing it intentionally or unintentionally, the recording industry is starting to crack down on the practice. A recent report came out recently in the media telling about a string of restaurants in Connecticut that were all hit with back licensing fees for using copyrighted recordings. Part of this was the result of the usual watchdog groups ASCAP and BMI scoping out the illegal use of music so composers and publishers can gain proper compensation.
Restaurants probably thought ASCAP and BMI mostly focused on radio play rather than seeking out local businesses using the recordings. Those Connecticut restaurants above give a new warning to all restaurants across the country that play recordings of notable artists. As with other drives lately to weed out illegal usage of intellectual properties, it’s something to think about if you own a restaurant yourself.
What Options Are There to Avoid Infringement Cases?
For those truly unaware that they need a license to play copyrighted music, ASCAP is reportedly providing education to businesses on how to acquire licensing. It’s part of their push to provide education rather than pursuing immediate litigation against those who honestly didn’t know. And even in those who might have done it intentionally to save money, they’ll always get a warning first to cease and desist until the restaurant acquires a license.
This philosophy stems from the realization of how expensive litigation is becoming and how everyone ultimately loses money to lawyers. Only the most egregious cases are adamantly pursued to avoid lengthy lawsuits. Yes, even the recording industry realizes this, despite their other storm trooper approach to cracking down on illegal use of music online in the past.
So if you’ve been using recordings in your restaurant, check to see if there’s a copyright on the recording you’re using. Unless you’re lucky to use public domain music (which may not provide the quality you want), almost every recording made over the last several decades will have a pending copyright for many more years.
As financially inconvenient as it may be to pay for licensing, it’s the price you have to pay to create a restaurant ambiance that persuades customers to return and help you come out ahead.