Legal Landmine: Playing Music at Your Business
October 11, 2013
Mackenzie Carlin in Copyright, Digital Music, MTT, MTT Open

Music offers the perfect audio backdrop for any store or business waiting room, either relaxing anxious customers or injecting energy into the lifeless. The right type of music can set the stage for the ideal purchasing attitude. However, music in the business world can be a bit of a legal landmine, with many seemingly innocent companies finding themselves guilty of stealing licensed tracks. Keep the following in mind as you navigate the complicated world of business and music:

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Public Versus Private Performances

When you purchase a track on iTunes, you are eligible to play it in any private setting. However, your having paid for that song does not mean you can blast it over the speakers at your store. Before you are allowed to play such music in a more public setting, you need to ensure that all licensing requirements have been met. According to Entrepreneur, failure to do so could result in a fine of $750, or as much as $150,000 if the copyright infringement is deemed intentional in a court of law.

Your best resources for finding and obtaining licensing for music are the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI). These two organizations provide assistance for anyone hoping to simplify the process of music licensing. They deal with copyright issues for just over half of all songs used for public performance and can prove very useful as you strive to find the perfect business soundtrack.

Avoid Disney At All Costs

Whether you run a toy store or a children's boutique, you might be tempted to play songs from “The Lion King,” “Mulan” and other classic Disney favorites. Yes, kids love these tunes, but you are treading in very dangerous territory by playing them. Disney is very particular about copyright issues and will not hesitate to go after any business leader choosing to cast such concerns aside. An example of this phenomenon is highlighted by the Orlando Sentinel. In 2008, Disney went after a small party business because it used characters from “Winnie the Pooh” without permission. The last thing your business needs is to be targeted by this powerful corporation, so be sure to avoid all risk and strike those Disney songs from your playlist.

TV And Radio Broadcasts

If you are looking to play music in a business setting but cannot afford the licensing fees required for individual songs, you may be able to still include popular songs in your company's setup with the help of basic TV and radio broadcasts. According to, many excellent music and TV packages are available at an affordable rate, and, better yet, can be broadcast at your business for free. Again, you will need to keep up to date on licensing and check thoroughly to ensure that the channel or station you have in mind is actually eligible to be played in your place of business.

Most customers remain blissfully unaware of the hassles with which businesses have had to deal in order to provide the perfect background music. But given the huge paybacks in terms of customer comfort, the effort of sorting through licensing issues is definitely worth your time.

Article originally appeared on Music Think Tank (
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