Davis Brown Intellectual Property Law Blog 

Long Term Care Facilities and Music Licensing - April 16, 2019

Kassandra E Ricklefs

The ability to play music for residents of a long-term care facility can be important to their enjoyment of life and overall happiness. However, the facilities must be aware of the copyright laws and the rights of others when playing music. Often, and to the surprise of many, playing music in a public space requires a license, and not obtaining the proper permissions can expose the facility to claims of copyright infringement.

Copyright Basics

United States copyright laws give artists and record companies various exclusive rights to their works, including the right to perform those works publicly. Under copyright law, a “public performance” includes the performance of a work such as a song “at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of family and its social acquaintances is gathered.” Most businesses with public areas therefore qualify. So in general, if a business wants to play music protected by copyright, it will need to acquire a license.

Do You Need a License?

In the context of a long-term care facility, public performances can include playing copyrighted music in a dining hall during meal time, in an exercise class, during a social gathering, and in numerous other settings. A “performance” can include music played by a live band or DJ, or playing a CD, MP3, or streaming music services, or broadcasting Copyrighted works over speakers or TVs. Typically, each of these public performances requires a license.

There are certain specific exceptions. However, these requirements include specific requirements on the total square footage, number of speakers, and/or number of televisions, and consultation with counsel on these requirements is highly advisable before relying on the exception. 

So You Need A License, How Do You Get One?

The good news is that those in need of a license do not have to track down each individual artist.  Licenses to perform copyrighted music publicly can be obtained directly from the copyright owner or more commonly are obtained from a performing rights organization. The most prominent performing rights organizations in the United States are Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)

Almost every artist in the United States is associated with one of these organizations, which provides blanket licenses to their entire catalog of works and in turn provides royalties to performers, composers, and songwriters. Each organization has a unique catalog of works and artists that it represents, as such it may be necessary to have a license for more than one or all of these organizations, depending on which songs you wish to perform publicly.  

Obtaining a license from ASCAP, BMI, and/or SESAC can provide peace of mind to a business that you have the proper permissions in place to perform music publicly. Of course every situation is unique and there are alternative methods of obtaining the proper permissions to perform music. It’s important to evaluate the specific situation and possibly consult with a professional if it is unclear.  Do not simply assume that because you can play music you do not need a license to do so.   

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