Music Licensing: Your Frequently Asked Questions


Music has always been an essential part of the ambiance integral to a private dining room or clubhouse and is used throughout the service industry. The use of music programming, however, requires a license and playing music at your club may be in violation of United State Copyright Law if you do so without obtaining the proper license.

Who Are BMI, SESAC and ASCAP?  

One of the things that makes music performance licensing so complicated is that there are three organizations licensing performance rights for most of the music copyright holders in the United States. These are the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and SESAC, Inc. (SESAC).

Why Does My Club Need to Pay Royalties?  

The short answer to why you may have to pay royalties is because the law says so. Playing your radio at home or listening to a CD in your car is “free,” but once you allow public performances of music in your club, you become responsible for making sure your business is in compliance with federal copyright laws.


Does My Club Need to Pay All Three Agencies? 

Buying a license from one performing rights organization, such as ASCAP, will not protect a business from liability for unauthorized performance of songs in BMI's repertoire or in SESAC’s repertoire. So unless you are sure that the only music to be performed at your club (in any form and by any live band, disc jockey or other performer) will be strictly limited to those works specifically covered by the single blanket license you hold, you are at risk of copyright infringement for the performance of music listed in the repertoires of other agencies. 

What Can Happen to My Club If We Are Not Licensed? 

The cost of performing copyrighted musical works without a license can be far greater than the cost of the license. Failure to obtain a license to perform publicly copyrighted music is copyright infringement under the copyright law. The copyright infringer is subject to a civil suit in federal court. Sanctions against an infringer can include an injunction and the copyright owner’s actual damages, as well as the infringer’s profits or “statutory damages” of up to $30,000 for each copyrighted song performed without a license (up to $150,000 if the infringement is willful). The infringer can also be required to pay the copyright owners’ legal fees. The law further provides for criminal sanctions against those who willfully infringe on a copyright for commercial advantage or private gain.


My Club’s Music System is Provided by a Third-Party Who States That They Cover Music Licensing. Do I Need Additional Licensing?  

It is important to note that their license generally covers the performance for the music that they are providing. However, it does not cover the premises itself for other performances of licensed music such as live bands, etc.  

How Can My CMAA Membership Help My Club Save Money?  

Jan_10_2012_4CMAA members are eligible for discounts with two of the three music licensing organizations. BMI offers a benefit program that provides substantial discounts to CMAA members on music licensing costs. A five percent membership discount, when coupled with a five percent online payment discount, will allow clubs to save 10 percent on the cost of their BMI music license. BMI customer service representatives are available at 1 (800) 925-8451 or visit

Jan_10_2012_3CMAA has also negotiated on behalf of its members that clubs managed by CMAA members in good standing will receive a 15 percent discount off license fees for a SESAC Performance License. The SESAC Performance License runs on a calendar year basis and fees are based on the total number of club members. Visit to obtain a SESAC Performance License.

For additional information on music licensing, please visit or contact Melissa Low, senior director, Communications and Government Relations, at (703) 739-9500 or at