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Music Licensing FAQ's
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Information courtesy of the National Restaurant Association


I play live music just one night a year, but I am under 3,500 gross square feet and play only televisions and radios the rest of the year.  Am I exempt from music licensing fees?

No.  The exemption covers restaurants that play radio and television music only I use the patio of my restaurant, but only in the summer. 


Does this count toward my total square footage?

Yes.  If you use the patio area of your restaurant to serve customers even once per year it will likely be counted toward your gross square footage I own a small hotel. 


In the restaurant portion of this hotel I play only radios and I am under 2,000 gross square feet.  Am I exempt?

While the law does not specifically answer this question, you may be exempt under the definition of 'establishment'.  Call 800-424-5156 for details.


I have a current signed contract with ASCAP to play my television and radios, but I meet the square footage exemption under the law.  Can I just stop paying my fees?

Most likely not.  If you have a signed contract you must wait until the contract has expired.  Once the contract has expired, contact the music licensing societies and let them know that your circumstances have changed.


My restaurant is under 3.750 gross square feet. I currently play CD's in my establishment. Can I continue to play the CD's and still claim the exemption?

No. Just because you paid for the discs does not entitle you to play them publicly. The exemption just covers restaurants that play radio and television music only. You must stop playing the CD's to meet the exemption requirements. Or, if you wish to continue to play the discs, you must contact the music licensing societies to determine your licensing requirements.


How do I count the speakers I have at my restaurant? Do I have to take my television apart to count the speakers?

That's unclear. However, the National Restaurant Association believes it was Congress' intent that restaurateurs only count external speakers.


Do I have to include all restaurant space (storage, etc.) when determining if I qualify for the exemption?

Yes. All space must be included, with one exception: parking space (as long as that space is not used for playing music).


Is there anything I can do if I don't like the licensing fee amounts that ASCAP or BMI demand?

Yes. You can challenge the fee in the federal district court in the circuit where you are located (New York restaurants use the 2nd District Court in New York, NY).


If I have a dispute with SESAC, can I challenge the fee in my circuit court?

No. The law only applies to ASCAP and BMI in terms of a rate challenge. The law has not been resolved regarding SESAC.


I employ a band to perform in my restaurant. Doesn't the band have to pay a license fee? Why should I have to pay a fee?

The band may be required to pay a fee, but whether or not a licensing society seeks a license from a band does not change your legal obligation to pay a fee. The law imposes an obligation to pay on both the performer and the restaurateur who allows the performance in the restaurant.



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