Does Original Music Exist Anymore?

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.

Dear Law and Disorder:

I have a small venue. All 3 licensing companies are claiming I need to pay them for my karaoke and music that occurs weekly, but the bands that I have sign contracts making sure they only play their original music, nothing copyrighted. These companies have been strong-arming me with threats that there’s no such thing as original music anymore and that I must pay or I will be heavily fined. Is this true and, if so, is there blanket licensing that I may acquire for all 3?

Well, if there’s “no such thing as original music anymore”, that’s news to me and, I suspect, the thousands of composers out there!

If you require your bands to perform only original music that they composed themselves, then you do not need to obtain performance licenses from ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. The bands can give you all the permissions you need. However, if the bands breach their contract by “sneaking in” a few covers and performing music written by other bands or artists, then you would be liable for not having the proper performance licenses in place. (The band would be liable, too—for both breach of contract AND copyright infringement—but the performing rights organizations are more likely to go after you than the band.)

The karaoke is another matter. Karaoke machines, like jukeboxes, require licenses to be used in public venues such as yours. If you are featuring weekly karaoke nights, then you definitely must obtain karaoke licenses. The good news, such as it is, is that you can, indeed, obtain blanket karaoke licenses from each of the three performing rights organizations. The licenses will be based on the size and income of your venue.

Thanks for writing…and thanks to all of you who have written in, supported our blog, and asked great questions! Keem ‘em coming! Happy Thanksgiving!


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