Music Licensing for Restaurants

Music, songs, lyrics, and performances are all protected under federal copyright law. Music licensing for restaurants is essential as performers, songwriters, musicians, lyricists, and other music professionals all own their work and federal copyright law protects that work from use or reproduction without consent. If you play music or thinking about playing music in your restaurant, you should protect yourself from fines, litigation, and other costs by obtaining the correct type of music license.

That is where Performing rights organizations (PROs), such as BMI, SESAC, and others come in. These PROs act as intermediaries between restaurants and songwriters to protect intellectual property and make licensing more cost-effective and convenient. Restaurants pay a fee to the PROs for a blanket license that grants permission to use all of the music each organization represents, and they, in turn, distribute the fees, less operating expenses, to their affiliated songwriters, publishers, and composers as royalties.

The PROs have different pricing and different factors that weigh into the licensing fee that each establishment has to pay for playing music. Music licensing for restaurants include some of the following factors

  • Size of your establishment

  • Whether it is live music or recorded

  • How often you will be playing the music

  • Which method of licensing you choose

One exception to the rule allows businesses of a certain size (restaurants or bars under 3,750 square feet) to play music from a radio, television, or similar household device without a license.

Restaurants or bars that are over 3,750 square feet in size can be exempt if one of the following conditions exists:

  • The audio system uses six or fewer speakers with no more than four in any one room or outdoor space.

  • The audio/visual system consists of no more than four televisions, with no more than one T.V. per room and whose screens are smaller than 55 inches, diagonally.

Restaurants With Outdoor Dining: Restaurants that have outdoor dining or smoking patios will have to include the size of that outdoor space when calculating the total square footage because these areas are considered to be part of the restaurant.

Restaurants may also want to consider purchasing a music service, such as Pandora for Business or Musak. These service providers will have already obtained licenses for the music they play in your business. Remember, that you will still need to make separate licensing arrangements if you play music other than what the service provides.

This is where TRA and your membership can help. TRA members receive a discount from BMI and SESAC for music licensing for restaurants. BMI offers a 5% discount and a discount for on-line full payment of licensing fees. SESAC offers a 10% discount to TRA members.

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