Musical compositions are among the many protected works under the United States Copyright Act. Owners of musical compositions enjoy many exclusive rights, including the exclusive right to publicly perform the compositions. In most circumstances, establishments that offer music (including karaoke) must obtain permission to allow the musical performance. Fortunately, there are several performance rights societies, such as Broadcast Music, Inc. (“BMI”), American Society of Composers, Authors and Publisher (“ASCAP”) and SESAC that offer licenses (for a fee) to allow the performance of the music at your establishment within their catalogues.
Determining your music usage in advance and purchasing the appropriate license(s) can avoid a costly copyright infringement lawsuit where the copyright owner or his representative could seek up to $150,000 in statutory damages against the establishment and its owners. If you do not have a license and play music, then you should be absolutely certain that a license is not necessary. If you receive a letter from the copyright owner or a performance rights society regarding the unauthorized performance of music, DO NOT IGNORE! These letters provide you an opportunity to resolve the matter without costly litigation.