commercial business music royalties

While Copyright Royalty Board decisions on royalties for webcasters, Sirius XM and mechanical royalties get most of the attention, the CRB also sets rates paid by “business establishment services” for the “ephemeral copies” made in their music businesses. Business establishment services are the companies that provide music to businesses to play in retail stores, restaurants and other commercial establishments. These services have come a long way from the elevator music that once was so derided – and now set the mood in all sorts of businesses with formats as varied as the commercial businesses themselves.  While the rates paid by these services pay for music rights is a little off-topic for this blog, these rates are a bit unusual, so they are worth mentioning.  The Copyright Royalty Board just announced a proposed settlement between the services that were participating in the CRB case and SoundExchange which will raise the rates gradually from the current 12.5% of revenue to 13.5% over the next 5 years, with a minimum annual fee of $20,000, up from $10,000. These rates, which apply to any company that does not negotiate direct royalties with the sound recording copyright holders, go into effect in 2019 and will be in place through 2023. Comments on these proposed rates are due June 18, though CRB rules limit the consideration of comments from those who were not participants in the proceeding.

We have written about the rates paid by these services before (see for instance our articles here, here and here).  What makes them unusual is that the royalties are not paid to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings, as are the royalties paid by other digital music services including webcasters (here and here) or Sirius XM.  That is because, in adopting Section 114 of the Copyright Act, Congress did not want to impose on businesses a new performance right, as there is no general public performance right in sound recordings in the United States.  Businesses and other services that do not digitally transmit performances of audio recordings have no obligation to pay copyright holders in the sound recordings (usually the record companies) or artists for the public performance of music.  Users do, however, pay fees for the public performance of the underlying composition through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC and GMR.  As we wrote here, the Register of Copyrights has suggested that a general public performance right in sound recordings be paid in the United States. But that would impose new fees on all businesses that use recorded music in the US, from stadiums playing “We Will Rock You” at the appropriate point in a big game, to DJs spinning their discs in nightclubs, to the trendy tunes playing in the hip clothing retail stores, to over-the-air radio. This proposal is therefore very controversial.  So, if they are not paying public performance fees, why do background music services have to pay SoundExchange?
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Early this month, the Copyright Royalty Board announced that it will be starting a new proceeding to set the royalty rates to be paid by “business establishment services” for the rights to make ephemeral copies of sound recordings. The rates will apply for the period 2019-2023. Interested parties must file a Petition to

Bars and Restaurants, to make their businesses more attractive to customers, often feature music or video, often broadcast radio or TV.  We wrote about the issues for businesses that play the radio on their premises here.  This week, Landslide, the magazine of the American Bar Association’s Intellectual Property Division, published an article that

Twice this morning, I was faced with the question of whether a business needs a license to play a radio or TV station on their premises, once in a story in one of the broadcast trade publications (see the article here, in the You Can’t Make This Up column toward the bottom of the article) about a gas station that thought that they got around paying ASCAP, BMI and SESAC fees by using “6 or 7” consumer radios around the station. After I saw that article, I thought that it was worth writing this article, as the difference between 6 and 7 radios could make a real difference as to whether the business needs to pay music royalties.

Broadcasters need to be careful about urging their clients to play their stations at their business locations. There are very specific rules, and if the rules are not followed, liability can result. But, as detailed below, there are some exceptions to the obligation of commercial establishments to pay ASCAP, BMI and SESAC that apply specifically to establishments that play only FCC-licensed radio or TV stations. But the details of the exceptions must be observed or there can be issues. All of the performing rights organizations have contractors who travel the country, checking out retailers, bars, restaurants, and other commercial establishments to make sure that they are following the rules. There are periodically press reports about these rights organizations seeking royalties (sometimes through legal actions) from coffee shops, nightclubs, and even farmers markets that publically perform music without signing license deals. So these commercial establishments need to know the rules about music use to avoid becoming a target. As set forth below, the rules are very specific, and broadcasters can actually benefit from the exceptions as, in the limited circumstances set out in the Copyright Act, businesses can play music from FCC licensed outlets without a license, but music from other sources could present an issue. But be careful, as there are very specific rules – and the difference between 6 and 7 radios could be a real issue.
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