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Can You Use Copyrighted Music for Your Business?



Can You Use Copyrighted Music for Your Business?

It just takes knowing how; nearly everything can be done if you get the proper permission from (and pay the proper royalties to) the copyright owners and their many assistants.

Copyrighted Music

What makes the use of copyrighted music so complicated is that each particular use of a piece of music involves a different segment of copyright; in that little word is contained the music creator’s every right to reproduce, perform, and distribute music in all its forms, and to collect royalties in exchange for granting others permission to reproduce, perform, and distribute said music. The forms by which a piece of music can be reproduced and distributed have at this time grown so numerous, and the resulting streams of royalties so many, that it requires the efforts of not only a single individual who creates a piece of music but also several companies and organizations that each handle a portion of the administration of a copyright and the collection of the resulting royalties.

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Unfortunately for you, the business owner who wants to use a particular song, chances are that if you’ve heard and liked a particular song enough to think it will enhance your business, that song is probably administered already by multiple companies and organizations, from whom you will have to get licenses and to whom you will have to pay certain fees. But all those copyright owners want to be paid, and all those assisting organizations want to collect that pay. Once you know who or what to contact for your desired use of a song, the licensing process is not that hard. Still, the advice of a music business lawyer is useful in most cases and badly needed in other cases.

Business Uses for Music

In this short article it is impossible to cover all the possible combinations of business uses for music, licenses, and royalties that you might encounter. Several good music business books and an excellent lawyer well-versed in the music business might be necessary to make all the possibilities clear to you. We will look at the more common scenarios.

Background Music

If you want to play a particular song in the background of your business event or as a theme for your business presentations, you will have touched on the part of copyright known as the performance rights, and you will need to get a license from the performing rights organizations in whatever country the copyright holder has registered his, her, or its (in the case of a publishing company) rights. In the United States there are three performing rights organizations (PROs): ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Often you can find which PRO a song has been registered with by looking in the liner notes of the album it appears on, and sometimes on the CD itself; you can also search through the digitized databases of each PRO for the song. Once you have discovered what agency is handling your song, apply to that agency for a performing rights license. The royalty you pay will be accessed based on your use of the song.

Also Visit: Content Copyright Services

CD or MP3 Song

Say you didn’t want to take the CD or MP3 you took the song from with you every time you went to work, or if you added the song to some audio materials you plan to give to others. If you made a copy of the song on some portable media (on any media at all), you have now touched on the right to make copies contained within copyright (hence the name). And there are at least two separate copyright holders you will need to deal with. The first is the copyright holder of the original song; from that entity, most often a publishing company but sometimes an individual composer, you will need to apply for a mechanical license, which allows you to reproduce a song in recorded form in exchange for 9.1 cents (for songs under five minutes. There is a formula for longer songs, but we won’t get into that now) per reproduction. You would also need this license if your business was to record the song (a “cover”) on your own album.

Further complicating the matter is that some large publishers have their mechanical licenses administered for them by the Harry Fox Agency, which issues their licenses and collects the royalty fees. Nor is Harry Fox the only game in town when it comes to handling mechanical licenses. It is very important, therefore, to speak with the respective copyright holders and find out who is handling what in the matter of licenses.

But another copyright holder is involved when you want to use a song from a pre-existing album; the record company that produced and recorded a song creates a copyright for itself in the recorded song. Again, you’ll need a performing rights license from ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. Usually, the owners of the original copyright and the record company register the songs they share with the same PRO – businesses often belong to and register their songs with all three organizations. However, every now and again songwriters who hold their own copyrights do not belong to the same PRO as the record company putting out their songs. Check carefully.

Also read: What is the best guide to Choose a Business Name


If you decide to podcast your audio presentation containing the song in question to the World Wide Web, you have again touched on the part of copyright known as performing rights, and it’s back to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the appropriate licenses. The same would be true if you were to present your audio work on the radio. You may also need something called a statutory license. Most of the time, radio and television stations pay this and you don’t have to bother. But you’re distributing your materials contained the song in question digitally on the Web, you may indeed need the statutory license. You’ll need to check with a lawyer to be sure.