What is a BMI licensing for businesses, and why do businesses need to comply with Copyright Law?

BMI Licensing Cost

BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) is a music performing right organization (PRO). It represents more than 1.1 million songwriters, composers, and music publishers from different music genres. PROs collect license fees from businesses that play songs from the songwriters and singers they represent. The establishments required to pay licensing fees for the music that include websites, retail stores, televisions and radio stations, nightclubs, hotels, bars, restaurants, public establishments, and internet or mobile technologies.

BMI is a music licensor tasked with collecting licensing fees later distributed as royalties to the artists they represent. If you are looking to publicly play copyrighted music, you need to obtain a performing license from the PRO. You can’t play copyrighted music publicly without these licenses. The copyright law insists that enterprises must obtain permission from songwriters, composers, and artists before they can publicly play songs.

Copyrights are classified under intellectual property law. They protect creative content and creative expression, including books, movies, musical works, drawings, photographs, and software codes. The copyrights are obtained to prevent unfair use of said material and offer financial compensation to the copyright owners. The BMI music license fee keeps the artists in the business and helps them keep creating content.

Ignoring copyright laws, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and using copyrighted material without the proper licensing puts your business liable for fines that add up to thousands of dollars or other legal action from copyright licensors like BMI for copyright infringement. By complying with copyright law, businesses keep themselves away from lawsuits that could impact their business and ensure that content creators receive their dues.

BMI licensing costs for an average establishment

The average BMI music license for businesses costs a handsome fee of $250 to $400 annually. This amount could increase up to $2000 depending on a variety of factors. Some factors considered are the size of the business, the number of locations, how many speakers you have in each room, and the maximum occupancy.

For a retail business with a single location covering up to 5000 Square ft. and only four speakers, their BMI music licensing fee would be $460 per year. And the more speakers you have and new locations, the higher the cost goes. However, the BMI music license fees vary and have exceptions for specific businesses and use cases specified by BMI.

The BMI music license only covers content from artists under BMI. You’ll still need to obtain permits from other PROs to play music under their catalog. Since BMI doesn’t hold a monopoly as a PRO, other PROs also issue licenses for artists registered under them. However, this is where the disparity comes in, and the larger you want your playlist to be, the more you’ll have to pay licensing fees. Since PROs do not collaborate, having a license from one doesn’t protect you from lawsuits and fines from the other PROs.

The role of a BMI representative

A BMI representative plays a crucial role in the music industry, serving as a bridge between songwriters, composers, and the establishments that wish to use their musical works. These representatives ensure that all parties involved in the music playing process adhere to copyright laws within the United States. They are responsible for educating businesses about the importance of obtaining a performing license to legally play songs. This support not only protects the rights of music creators but also ensures that establishments are legally covered when they use copyrighted music.

To legally play any commercially available song, you will need all the licenses. For the same type of establishment, i.e., retail business, single location, 5000 square ft. and only four speakers, ASCAP charges $298 per year, and SESAC fees are around that same figure. If the $1000+ annual cost for all licenses and the time spent applying and waiting to seem like a lot, then the fines you will face for copyright infringement are certainly something to consider.

A much cheaper and recommended alternative for music streaming is to subscribe to a commercially licensed background music provider like Jukeboxy Music for Business. Subscribing to one of these licensed providers gives you access to all your favorite tracks at less than half the price and time you would’ve spent on per location licenses.

What happens if a business doesn’t pay for BMI licenses through BMI or a BMI licensed background music service provider like Jukeboxy?

Tempting as it is to play music without paying licensing fees, the legal action taken by the PROs for copyright infringement will cost your company a lot more than the price tag of the license. The public performance, playing the music of any type on your premises, whether performed live or streamed over the speakers, is covered under copyright laws. If you want to play it, you have to pay for it. Suppose investigators of the PROs discover your business has played music without obtaining the necessary licenses. In that case, they might reach out to you requesting payment for the musical works played or take legal action in the form of a lawsuit.

The financial consequences of ignoring the licensing laws are severe. For establishments not licensed under the individual PROs like BMI or licensed music streaming providers like Jukeboxy, the fines range from $750 for every unauthorized playback instance. This fee can go upwards of $150,000 when the court finds out you did it willingly and knowingly that it was illegal. If you lose the case—which usually happens—you will have to pay the PROs’ legal fees.

Paying for a BMI music license, whether directly or through a business music provider, keeps your establishment on the safe side of the copyright law. When it comes to music licensing laws, ignorance of the law is not the absence of the law.

Other players in the music licensing sector

Like BMI, there are several other organizations like ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) and SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers). Together, they are tasked with licensing the copyrighted works of songwriters, composers, and music publishers. They collect the royalty fees and distribute them to the artists.

Combined, they represent more than 20 million artists in the United States, with each PRO charging different music licensing fees to play musical works from their catalog. 

Like BMI representatives, all other PRO’s have investigators identifying establishments playing unlicensed music from their catalog. They will attempt to obtain the fees or take legal action for non-compliance. Licenses from every PRO will fill in the gaps not covered by another PRO and give you access to more music to play, which could be expensive. A subscription to a licensed music streaming provider, like Jukeboxy, will cover the copyrighted music from all PROs libraries. 

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