As you nod along to a catchy tune over dinner or drinks with friends, you might not even think about the live music you’re enjoying. For many people, live music is simply part of the ambiance of their local bars or restaurants. For others, it may be the main draw. Either way, people often don’t give much thought to the price of that entertainment.
For small business owners, however, paying for a license for that music can be a major worry. While playing live music in a venue without a license is copyright infringement, creating potential liability for lawsuits seeking large amounts of money, it is often impossible for business owners to figure out which licenses to buy, for what and from whom. Despite the explosive growth in access to information of all kinds online, there is still not a single comprehensive and actionable database of music copyright ownership and licensing that exists today.
If a person wants to buy licenses for copyrighted music, they currently must sift through a sparse patchwork of incomplete databases – covering only some copyrighted works, like those maintained by the performing rights organizations (PROs) that license song performances. Those databases are often unhelpful and usually state that they can’t be relied on to be accurate or up-to-date. Business owners wanting to offer music to their customers are often not equipped with the tools necessary to make rational decisions based on opaque data.
This leaves business owners either guessing or forced to buy all of the licenses. Increasingly, venues like restaurants, taverns, wineries and hotels are walking away from hosting live musicians altogether. In fact, a 2016 industry survey by WineAmerica estimated as many as 32 percent of wineries throughout the United States have either canceled or are considering canceling their live music programs. This can put venue owners in a no-win position and leave them denying opportunities for new and upcoming artists to do what they love and discover new audiences.
Bipartisan legislation introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) may provide a solution to this problem. The Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act would help establish a neutral, searchable, digital database of historical and current copyright ownership and licensing information, free-of-charge.
“Beverage licensees have been clear that their focus is on bringing transparency to the music licensing process and already support songwriters by collectively paying millions of dollars in licensing fees to PROs,” said John Bodnovich, executive director of the American Beverage Licensees trade association. “This is a bipartisan issue, affecting hospitality businesses in every town, city and state across America, and this bill is a sensible step toward a more transparent system.”
The proposed legislation is a step toward creating an open and accessible music licensing system, ensuring that venues can safely continue to provide live music for their patrons.
“Transparency is the only way for wineries to make sound business decisions when it comes to music,” said Tara Good, vice president of WineAmerica. “Music and live music performances play a huge part in promoting wine tourism and creating a memorable and unique experience.”
With more transparency and access to music ownership and licensing information, venue owners can buy the right licensing with confidence and you can keep enjoying live music. To support live music at local venues, call your members of Congress and urge them to support H.R.3350 – Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act. (Family Features)