Don’t Let your Guests Walk into a Silent Lobby…

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In today’s world, a hotel or lodging establishment is more than just a place to sleep while on vacation. People select hotels based on amenities and value, and if searching the web for one, many people can just look at photos of a hotel and almost hear and feel what it would be like to stay there, which is the object of good marketing. Then, they make their decision to book their room, and when they finally arrive at your hotel, they’ll know almost instantly it was a good choice… if the vibe is right and there’s music playing. That’s because music undeniably shows that the hotel’s management pays attention to details and wants their guests to relax and have a great time.

How do the creators of the music you play fit into your business plan? They are small business people who earn their living from the product they provide just like any other suppliers, and the copyright law, which protects their product (music), was enacted to help them continue to provide it. That’s why businesses that play music need a license to do so under Federal Copyright Law.

What is a music license?

A music license provides copyright clearance to play music in a public setting, which under copyright law, is considered anything outside a normal circle of friends and family.

Why are there federal laws to protect songwriters and composers?

Very simply, so that they will continue to create music and the cycle of art and commerce will continue to grow. Songwriters help businesses and businesses help songwriters. Without compensation for songwriters, who don’t draw a regular paycheck for their work like other employees, the quality and quantity of music available for business and pleasure will quickly disappear, and, we will, eventually, have silence.

Who provides these licenses?

There are three performing rights organizations (PROs) in the U.S. that provide music licenses – Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), ASCAP and SESAC. Each represents a unique repertoire of music and grants blanket permission to play the copyrighted music they represent so that business owners don’t have to contact copyright owners directly, which saves time and money for both businesses and songwriters. Licenses with all three PROs provide businesses with copyright clearance to play virtually all of the music heard around the world every day.

For BMI, which operates on a non-profit-making basis, the process goes like this: once a business licenses and we receive their fee, we distribute all of the moneys received, less operating expenses, as royalties to our more than 600,000 affiliated songwriters, composers and publishers (copyright owners) based on radio, TV, cable, the Internet, concerts and logs provided by businesses that track and report the music they play. This performance data provides the most accurate snapshot of all of the music played publicly and the size of the audiences that hear it. This ensures that the songwriters, composers and publishers who do have public performances get paid accurately.

It is important to note here that many songwriters are not the artists who record their work and the payment they receive from the sale of these recordings is minimal compared to the artist’s share. This means that the fees that businesses pay on public performances are all that allow many songwriters to continue creating new music for all of us to enjoy. It is also important to note that the cost of a BMI music license for a hotel is typically less than $7 a day, which means that for the cost of a couple of drinks, all of your guests can be entertained.

Do I need a license to use radios and/or TVs?

The use of television in public areas of hotels often raises questions about copyright law and music licensing – even for broadcasts of sporting events. Some may wonder what a sports telecast has to do with music. An analysis of a typical game, however, reveals an abundance of copyrighted music throughout the broadcast. Music is everywhere, including in program openings, half-time programs, highlights, commercials, and breaks in the action. While television networks, local TV stations and cable networks secure public performance licenses for the music they use in their programs, those agreements do not authorize the re-transmission of such broadcasts to the public.

Public performances of radio and TV are specifically addressed in Title 17, Section 110(5)(B) of the U.S. copyright law which states that any food service or drinking establishment that is 3750 square feet or larger, or any other establishment, other than a food service or drinking establishment, that is 2000 square feet or larger, must secure public performance rights for TVs or radios if any of the following conditions apply:

For TV, if the business is using any of the following:

1. more than four TVs; or

2. more than one TV in any one room; or

3. if any of the TVs used has a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches; or

4. if any audio portion of the audiovisual performance is communicated by means

  • of more than six loudspeakers, or four loudspeakers in any one room or adjoining
  • outdoor space; or

5. if there is any cover charge.

For radio, if the business is using any of the following:

1. more than six loudspeakers; or

2. more than four loudspeakers in any one room or adjoining outdoor space; or

3. if there is any cover charge; or

4. if the business is playing the radio (or any other type of music) through their phone line while customers wait on hold.

What happens if I use music without a license?

Penalties for copyright infringement are outlined in the federal copyright law and are not set forth by the performing rights organizations. The judge presiding over a copyright infringement case is given wide discretion in awarding statutory damages, which can be high — from $750 to $30,000 for each copyrighted song performed without a license, and up to $150,000 per work if the infringement is found to be willful.

How can I get a music license?

Most BMI music users apply for a license online. You can visit our website at, read the answers to frequently asked questions, review the license for your business category, then click and follow the directions to become licensed to play the more than 8.5 million musical works that BMI represents.

Originally published on Thursday, March 20, 2014
2324 views at time of republishing


BMI was founded in 1939 by forward-thinkers who wanted to represent songwriters in emerging genres, like jazz, blues and country, and protect the public performances of their music. Operating on a non-profit-making basis, BMI is now the largest music rights organization in the U.S. and is still nurturing new talent and new music. BMI is the bridge between songwriters and the businesses and organizations that want to play their music publicly. As a global leader in music rights management, BMI serves as an advocate for the value of music, representing more than 8.5 million musical works created and owned by more than 600,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers.

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