Many people aren’t aware of the huge difference between owning a copy of a song and owning a song. When you purchase a CD or digital audio file it does not become your property and you do not gain ownership of the music. The purchase price only allows you to use the music for your private listening, you can not play these tracks for use in your business because this is defined as a public performance. To use copyrighted music in a public setting, you must obtain a license, which is usually from BMI and ASCAP.
The only exception to this is due to an amendment to the Copyright Act.
1.) A food service or drinking establishment (restaurant, bar, tavern, inn, or any place where the purpose is to serve food or drink) is exempt if it’s less than 3,750 square feet OR has more than 3, 750 square feet AND uses no more than six speakers of which not more than 4 of the speakers are in any one room together or adjoining outdoor area AND if there are televisions, no more than four televisions of which not more than one is placed in any one room and none of the televisions have a screen size larger than 55 inches measure diagonally.
2.) Another establishment (a store, shop, or any place where the purpose is to sell goods or services) is exempt if it is less than 2,000 square feet OR is more than 2,000 square feet and has the same speaker and television requirements as food and drinking establishments.
If your business is not considered to be exempt, the fines for using copyrighted music without a license can be anywhere between $750 – $150,000 per incident. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so if you are unsure if your business needs a license, it’s best to check on the BMI and ASCAP websites where you can easily search by your type of business to find the license needed and the cost.