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Avoiding copyright infringement

We have information to help businesses that play music for the public.

Our office issues licenses to permit entertainment at restaurants, nightclubs, music venues, and outdoor special events. But, these licenses only permit entertainment as it relates to the sound. They do not license businesses to play or perform copyrighted music.

Still have questions? Contact:
Entertainment Licensing
1 City Hall Square, Room 817
Boston, MA 02201-2039

Know the law

Performance Rights Organizations

Any business that plays music for the public must pay for a license from the Performance Rights Organizations to play copyrighted music legally.  There are three major Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) in the United States:

  1. the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)
  2. Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
  3. SESAC

These PROs administer royalties for songwriters and publishers from the public performances of their songs. Cloud Cover Music has more information on PROs.

Streaming services

Is your business playing background music for your customers on a music streaming service such as Pandora or SiriusXM? You may be violating copyright law. To protect your business from fines or a lawsuit, subscribe to the "business" account of the music streaming services, or buy a license from the PROs.

If you subscribe to a music streaming service business account, the service gets licenses from the PROs on your behalf. This will ensure your business's compliance to all licensing and copyright law.

Fees and exceptions

Small business fee exceptions

For small businesses with radio and some TVs, there are exceptions to the license fee. You may be exempt from the fee if your establishment has less than 3750 gross square feet of space, not including space for customer parking. You may also qualify if you have 3750 gross square feet of space or more and:

  1. use no more than six loudspeakers, of which not more than four loudspeakers are located in any one room or adjoining outdoor space, and
  2. if TV sets are used, there are no more than four televisions, of which not more than one is located in any one room. None of the TVs can have a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches.

The ASCAP website has more information around common questions:

ASCAP help

Costs for subscription services and licenses

The cost of a subscription to a business music streaming service is usually about $25 per month. The cost of a license or licenses from the PROs range from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars each year. The cost for the licenses from PROs depends on the:

  • size of your business
  • type of entertainment offered (for example, radio, live bands, and DJs)
  • size of your premises, and
  • if there is an admission fee charged.

Businesses are responsible for getting these licenses if they have live performances and the performer has not been hired by the business. If a business is in violation of copyright laws, the PROs may fine the business or file a lawsuit. These fines can be upwards of a few hundred thousand dollars, depending on the violation.