September 12, 2011Restaurant Music Licensing Fees Getting Enforced More Consistently By BMI, ASCAP and SESAC

There’s a lot of overlap between restaurant lovers and music lovers, so it’s not hard to imagine that, if you open a restaurant, you have a favorite band. But before you plug your iPod into the new speaker system in your Mexican-Ghanaian-Tamil fusion joint in Albuquerque, hoping to blast your favorite mashup of Taylor Swift and Ghostface Killah, there’s something you need to do: buy the rights.

That’s because, according to TJ Jacobberger at Inside Scoop SF, music rights owners BMI and ASCAP have grown increasingly vigilant about enforcing their licensing agreements with restaurants over the past several years. Apparently, the two companies, which each own the rights to millions of songs, have sued more than two dozen restaurants for copyright infringement. These violations can be costly. One contentious case from a couple years ago involved Seattle restaurant Ibiza, which had not paid to use ASCAP’s music. The rights managers asked the restaurant to pay a fee of $30,000 as remuneration.

Even if any little restaurant is unlikely to be caught by BMI and ASCAP’s anonymous inspectors, the steepness of the fees makes paying for the rights to use music seem like a relatively easy decision. Rights aren’t even that expensive. BMI’s website quotes a fee of $2.45 per restaurant occupant per year, meaning that even a huge, 200-seat restaurant would only end up paying about $500 per year. (ASCAP does not post rates on its website.) And the National Restaurant Association has put together an easily comprehensible primer on the subject for would-be restaurant DJs.

The other option is to hire a background music company like Prescriptive Music, which takes care of licensing itself.  They offer a completely custom program that acts like your own iPod, but legal! You can also avoid fees if you install a paid jukebox from a licensed operator. But then you run the risk of have music-free periods if customers don’t want to pay for music.

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