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Music Licensing in the United States

The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 makes it illegal to play copyrighted material in your club without the consent of the copyright owner. Here’s what you need to know about music licensing in your club.

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Music copyright laws can be confusing. Simply buying a CD or purchasing a streaming music subscription may not be enough to protect your business from inaccurate interpretations or unfair enforcement of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.

IHRSA recognizes the validity of the Copyright Act of 1976, which grants copyright owners (i.e. composers and publishers of popular music) the exclusive right to publicly perform or authorize the public performance of their copyrighted works. Ultimately, the Act makes it illegal to perform a copyrighted work in a public place without the consent of the copyright owner, but IHRSA is committed to protecting our members like you and making it easy and more affordable for you to play music in your club.

Whether you're playing live music, radio, online streaming services, CDs, or even records, your club is required to pay copyright fees to use music in group exercise classes or as background music. There are music licensing organizations that provide licenses to legally play copyrighted music in exchange for a fee. IHRSA’s Music Licensing in the United States briefing paper explains both who and what these organizations are as well as any exemptions under the Fairness in Music Licensing Act.

This paper also contains information that will help clarify any of your concerns, and provide you with answers to the following questions:

  • How is the copyright law enforced?
  • Are clubs required to pay copyright fees?
  • Are there exemptions?
  • Who or what are BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC?
  • We have been contacted by Global Music Rights asking us to pay a licensing fee to them. Are they a legally recognized music licensing organization?
  • How do the Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) determine the cost of a music license for clubs?
  • Am I legally obligated to pay for a music licensing fee to every PRO?

“When you buy a song or subscribe to a music service to listen for your own private enjoyment, no music license is required. However, when your group ex instructor creates a new playlist to play in class, that is considered a public performance of music and a licensing fee is required.”

If you have additional questions after reading this briefing paper, you can always email IHRSA for more information. Sometimes your best next step will be to seek the advice of a qualified attorney. If it does come to that, feel free to share the briefing paper with your attorney. It could cut down on your attorney’s bill since it starts the research for them.