Clients often ask us, “Can I broadcast music from my iPod, CDs, or Internet radio in my business?” Typically, these clients operate bars, restaurants, or other service-based establishments. Often to a client’s surprise, we must inform them that the Copyright Act of 1976’s § 110 does not allow an establishment to “publicly display” non-broadcast music. The Copyright Act considers the public display of non-broadcast music to be copyright infringement, and business that want to fully mitigate their risks in this area must get a license to play music in their establishment.
The Copyright Act defines the public broadcast of a work as, “to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.” Certain public broadcasts are not copyright infringement. For example, an establishment that is a food service or drinking establishment that is less than 3,750 square feet (excluding the parking lot) can publicly broadcast any non-dramatic musical work that is intended to be received by the general public and that originates from a FCC-licensed broadcaster, whether radio, television, or satellite. Additionally, a food service or drinking establishment that is more than 3,750 square feet can broadcast any non-dramatic musical work from a FCC-licensed broadcaster if it uses less than 4 speakers in a single room and less than 6 speakers total or, in the case of television, it uses no more than 1 television per room and no more than 4 televisions in the entire establishment. Further complicating the issue, the televisions cannot have a screen size that is larger than 55 inches. Other regulations apply to establishments that do not serve food or drinks.
Despite these complex exceptions, there are no exceptions for the display of public works that do not originate from FCC-licensed broadcast stations. Simply put, the Copyright Act requires an establishment owner to license any non-broadcast work, including MP3s, CDs, and Internet radio, if he or she wishes to display that work in their establishment. Clients often believe that it is an unwritten rule that they will not be pursued for copyright infringement if they choose to publicly display non-licensed works in their businesses, but that is not the case. ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, has a reputation for hiring local residents that check restaurants and other businesses to ensure that they are licensing the music that they publicly display.
If you need help navigating through the myriad of public display rules under the Copyright Act, or if you would like to mitigate the risk that you will be subjected to a copyright infringement lawsuit for the public display of works in your establishment, please contact a expert copyright infringement attorney today.