Music Licensing

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Music LicensingDo you have music playing in your business? If its live music, karaoke, or even CD’s or an mp3 player over your stereo system, you need to have a license from a music licensing organization to be compliant with federal laws.

There are three licensing organizations that license performance rights for the majority of music copyright holders in the U.S. – BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.

The Washington Hospitality Association has negotiated a discount for our Restaurant & Bar members with one of the three organizations.



For Restaurant & Bar members:

  • 5% association discount just for being a member
  • 5% association online discount for licensing and/or paying @
  • Additional discounts may be available for multiple locations

For Lodging members:

  • 1% association discount available through hotel licensees through their AH&LA membership

General music license questions & answers

Q.  Does the purchase price of tapes and CDs cover the right to play them in my business?
A. When you purchase a record, tape or CD, or download from an online music provider, the purchase price covers your private listening right only. Once you decide to play these in public — such as in a restaurant, bar, café or telephone music-on-hold service — it becomes an additional performance of the music, which is known as a “public performance.” The copyright owners of musical works have the exclusive right of public performance. Therefore, any public performance by others requires permission.

Q.  Who is responsible for public performance fees if musicians are playing?
A. Since the live musical performance takes place on your premises, you have the responsibility. This applies even if musicians hired by management are independent contractors, or if musicians ignore specific instructions on what music can or cannot be played. It is the owner’s business that is being enhanced by live music.

Q.  I only use music that is played on the radio or television. Do I need a license for that?
A. Yes, under certain circumstances. However, some exemptions do exist:

  • Establishments under 3,750 gross feet (not including the parking lot) are exempt.
  • Establishments over 3,750 (not including the parking lot) may be exempt if:

They play no more than four televisions, each measuring up to 55” diagonally (no more than one per room), with no more than six speakers total, and with no more than four speakers per room, or if they play radios that have no more than six speakers total, with no more than four speakers per room.

Q: Do I need more than one license for music performing rights?
A. There are three performing rights organizations in the U.S. If you play music from any of these organizations, then you must have separate licenses with one or any of them; or, you need to get the permission from the individual copyright owners whose works they represent.

Additional information may be found at the following: Better Business Bureau