A public performance license is an agreement between a music user and the owner of a copyrighted composition (song), that grants permission to play the song in public, online, or on radio. This permission is also called public performance rights, performance rights, and performing rights.
Do I need a public performance license?
Whenever you perform in public a song you did not write, or play recorded music in public, such as at a club, restaurant, concert, on the radio, or streaming online, public performance licenses are required.
A public performance license is required no matter how small a portion of the song you use. There are some exceptions where a public performance license is not required: You don't need a public performance license for songs that you wrote yourself or songs that are in the public domain.
Who is responsible for getting the license?
In most cases, public performance rights should be handled by the institutions, businesses, venues, and radio stations that present the music. Small indie artists, educators, and DJs often don't need to secure public performance rights for private events. Also, most web and terrestrial radio stations handle their own public performance licensing, so playing live public radio at your venue is usually fine. If you are unsure about your specific scenario, you should ask the venue or contact ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC for details.
How do I get a public performance license?
Business owners in the United States should contact the three rights agencies that handle all public performance licensing in the United States, ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, to inquire about obtaining public performance licenses. Expect to report your playlists to these agencies, and share a small percentage of your revenues for royalties, which the agencies then distribute to the copyright holders.
To obtain public performance licenses in the United States, please contact the following performing rights agencies:
Outside of the United States, please contact your local performing rights society. To obtain licensing for any type of web radio that will be broadcast in the United States, even if the originating server is outside of the United States please contact the following agency:
Who gets paid?
A public performance license in the United States pays a royalty to the copyright holder of the composition (song). This is typically the composer or their publisher. However, sometimes rights are sold. If public performance rights are sold, a song might have a new owner, other than the original composer or publisher. All public performance royalties in the United States are collected by three agencies: ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. How much you pay for your public performance license is based on a number of variables, and is determined by these agencies. How much the composer/copyright holder gets paid is also determined by these agencies. In general, the entire pool of collected royalties is split among all of the member composers in proportion to the number of plays they received.
When should I have my public performance licensing in place?
Public performance licenses must be secured before playing copyrighted music in public. New business owners should anticipate this expense and incorporate public performance licensing into their plans before opening their doors. Existing business owners that wish to reconcile past transgressions or add public performance rights, should contact the aforementioned rights agencies to get started.
When happens if I don't get a license?
We are not in the business of enforcement. However all three agencies actively seek out copyright violators. The result can be surprise expenses, bad press, a take-down of the music, and in some cases legal action. Will you get caught? Maybe. Maybe not. But there are many more reasons to do things right than just the fear of getting caught. Check out all our reasons to get a license.