Posts Tagged ‘theaters’

Licensing May Not Be Music To Your Ears

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq. Dear Law and Disorder: Since ASCAP does not cover dance or theatrical performances, how does a dance group go about getting the appropriate permissions/ copyright releases needed for their performance? Another word for “permission” or “copyright release” is “license.” Dance performances, like theatrical performances such as opera or theater, as well as any other performance of music other than a concert, most often require two types of licenses for their performances: (1) a “Performance License” which is required for music to be performed (either live or via a recording) and (2) a “Dramatic License” for the music to be interpreted dramatically either through choreography or by performing the music as part of a play, musical, or opera. While ASCAP (as well as BMI and SESAC) does not issue dramatic licenses, they do issue performance licenses. Typically, most venues, theaters, presenters, etc. will obtain yearly blanket performance licenses from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC which allow the music in the ASCAP, BMI and SESAC catalogs to be performed in the venue. In such cases, that means you would only be required to get dramatic licenses for your group’s performances. However, not every venue obtains ASCAP, BMI and SESAC blanket performance licenses. Some erroneously believe that non-profits are somehow exempt from such licenses. Others believe it is the artist’s responsibility while others simply hope they won’t get caught. There are also instances where the music you want to dance to may not be represented by ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. Regardless of the reason, in instances where either the venue doesn’t have a performance license or the performance license doesn’t cover the music you need, you will be required to obtain both performance licenses as well as dramatic licenses. As for how your group actually obtains the necessary licenses, you would need to identify the composer or publisher of each musical work you want to use in your performance and contact the composer or publisher directly. Identifying composers and publishers isn’t actually that hard. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC maintain free, searchable databases, as does the Copyright Office website. You can also search the databases of other licensing organizations such as the Harry Fox Agency (which issues mechanical licenses.) You may have to be persistent and allow for lots of time. Not every composer or publisher will respond right away—or even respond at all. You may need to make repeated requests. If you don’t’ get a response, assume the answer is “no” and select different music. “Silence” is never golden which it comes to licensing. Also, just because you request a license doesn’t mean the composer or publisher will agree. And even if they agree, they can charge whatever they want. Composers and/publishers are free to be as arbitrary as they want when it comes to issuing licenses and setting fees. As I frequently remind everyone, there is no such thing as “industry standard.” If all of this seems daunting, keep in mind that, more often than not, you will be able to get the licenses you need provided you invest the necessary time and attention. Do not leave the licensing process to the last minute and do not assign this task to a volunteer intern helping out at your office. Also, bear in mind that the same rules that may seem to thwart your ability to use the music you want also protect you when it comes to controlling the ability of other dance groups to copy and perform works that you create and control. If all else fails, consider supporting a composer and commissioning your own music. _________________________________________________________________ For additional information and resources on this and other legal and business issues for the performing arts, visit To ask your own question, write to All questions on any topic related to legal and business issues will be welcome. However, please post only general questions or hypotheticals. GG Arts Law reserves the right to alter, edit or, amend questions to focus on specific issues or to avoid names, circumstances, or any information that could be used to identify or embarrass a specific individual or organization. All questions will be posted anonymously. __________________________________________________________________ THE OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE! The purpose of this blog is to provide general advice and guidance, not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney familiar with your specific circumstances, facts, challenges, medications, psychiatric disorders, past-lives, karmic debt, and anything else that may impact your situation before drawing any conclusions, deciding upon a course of action, sending a nasty email, filing a lawsuit, or doing anything rash!