Royalty Free Music and Performance Rights: Legal Issues

Paying the Piper: Music Licensing for Business Owners
Legal Issues with Playing Music in Your Store or Restaurant

Do you own a retail store, restaurant, hotel, bar, or coffeeshop?If so, you probably rely on music to create an pleasing and distinctive ambience. But whether you’re playing royalty free music from Productiontrax, hosting live music nights, piping in satellite radio, or just putting on CD’s from your personal collection, you need to know a little about music licensing for businesses- specifically, how can you avoid paying if you don’t need to? And how can you know if you’re breaking the law?

Music composers and songwriters own the “public performance rights” to songs they create, and they are the only people legally allowed to play their songs in public or in places of business. Instead of negotiating this right personally with every establishment that wants to play their songs, most composers join performing rights organizations (PRO’s). So instead of contacting Bruce Springsteen directly to get permission to leave the radio on when “Born in the USA” comes on in your bar, you can pay a blanket fee to ASCAP and be authorized to play not just Springsteen but also music by Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, and 320,000 other composers.

In the United States, most composers belong to one of three behemoth PRO’s: ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, and most businesses that rely on radio purchase licenses from both ASCAP and BMI. Most Canadian artists use SOCAN, and other countries have their own PRO’s. Many composers on Productiontrax belong to a PRO and list it in their profile. Productiontrax music licenses cover synchronizing their music with other media such as video. To play a royalty free music track from Productiontrax in a business, theater, or othe venue without being synced with video, you may need to have a blanket license from the composer’s PRO.

It’s important to make the distinction between multimedia producers and venue owners. Typically, performance rights blanket licenses are paid for by venue owners (people who own theaters, restaurants, stores, and broadcasting networks), not by producers of multimedia projects.

But wait, you may be saying, I’ve never paid for a music license before. Well, you may be about to get sued by BMI. (Yes, the major PRO’s do conduct regular “busts” of businesses that don’t pay their fees.) But don’t panic — you may also be exempt. The 1999 Fairness in Music Licensing Act amended the copyright law to exempt businesses from paying for public performance rights if:

• The only use music from licensed radio, television, cable, and satellite sources

• They do not re-transmit the music beyond their establishments

• They do not charge admission


• They are smaller than 3,750 square feet (for restaurants, bars, and grills) or smaller than 2,000 square feet (for other retail establishments)


• They have six or fewer speakers, no more than four speakers in one room, no more than four TVs, no more than one TV in each room, and no TV with a diagonal screen length greater than 55 inches.

(Also, stores that sell AV equipment and recordings like Best Buy and independent record stores (the few that still exist) are exempt, and jukeboxes usually come with the necessary licenses.)

So if you run a small one-room coffeehouse with four speakers, you can keep the radio on without purchasing a license for the music. But if you play CDs or mp3s, host karaoke nights, or have performances by DJ’s or bands that play covers (including jazz jam sessions, which almost always consist of covers), you’re legally required to have a license for that performance. If you’re not exempt from pay for music licensing but want to save money, check if your local restaurant and beverage association offers discounts for ASCAP and BMI blanket licenses. Also, be aware that live performance may incur slightly higher rates than simply using radio and TV broadcasts.

We should note that also carries royalty free music from composers who are not members of a PRO, and offer their music free of public performance royalties.

Tips for Stock Photos: Matching Color From Screen to Print

Make sure your stock photos look their best.

One of the challenges in working with digital stock photos is knowing how colors will translate when printed. The potential issues with color matching are fairly complex. Image files, screen displays, and prints are three different beasts, with three separate color profiles. Particularly near the edge of the color spectrum, you may find that your stock photo contains colors that can be printed but can’t be displayed on your screen, and other colors that can be displayed on your screen but can’t be printed.

If that isn’t confusing enough, monitors don’t all display the same color profile, and neither do printers. And mundane reality can affect viewing as well: the white color of your paper (on which you print your photos) will never be bright as the pure white light emitted by your computer screen, and your choices of ink and paper will play a major role as well. Even interior lighting can change the way your eyes see color and confound color matching- ideally, use full-spectrum light bulbs, but keep distracting bright colors out of your field of vision.

Even with all those issues, some tips on “color management” should help you ensure that your stock photo prints will look as close as possible to what you see on your screen:

• Newer monitors and video cards often increase onscreen color saturation to improve the look of games and DVD’s, which makes color matching near-to-impossible. You can adjust these features (and turn them off) under your video card display settings, usually under an “advanced” button. Next to options to adjust color, gamma, or contrast, will be a “saturation” or “digital vibrance” slider, which measures the amount that the screen is enhancing the saturation. Set this slider to zero.

• LCD Monitors generally need to calibrated before they can match colors well. If you can, find a monitor that’s already calibrated correctly, and mess around with the color matching features until yours looks about the same. In general, most screens are pre-set far too bright and intense for color matching, and need to be dimmed somewhat. Monitor calibration is usually under System Preferences.

• If you’re serious about color matching, get a hardware/software package to color profile your monitor, such as Eye-One. You’ll probably want to run the software once a month, as monitors change their display as they age.

• Also, make sure you convert your images into the correct color profile for your printer. If you’re using your own printer, that profile should be in the included documentation. If you’re sending stock photography to someone else to be printed, ask them what color profile they use. If you send them images in a different color profile, it will affect the saturation.

Stock Footage Submission Ideas

Many projects require professional video footage in order to meet their production goals, whether you’re making a promotional video or a documentary. Using stock footage is a great way to finish off a project. If you’re a filmmaker, producing stock footage can be an excellent source of income. By licensing or selling your footage to archives and distributors, such as, you can make your stock footage available in the marketplace. So what kind of footage are people looking for? Here are some ideas for stock footage submissions.

Nature – Capturing scenes from nature is a great idea for stock footage clips. Nature stock footage shots are frequently used in many types of productions, and are easy to capture. No matter where you live, there is surely a scene waiting to be filmed in nature. Scenes of different elements of the open world are great, such as forests, rivers, landscapes, and animals interacting in nature are ideal. See what your area has to offer, or make a short trip outside the city to see what you can find.

Urban Areas – If you’re miles away from any kind of possible nature shoot, then capture some footage of the city! Film of city skylines and streets make excellent stock footage, and are simple shots to film. Post up on a street corner and grab some footage of cars passing by, or set up a camera and film the clouds passing behind the city. Also, see if your city has any recognizable monuments or buildings, as these make great subjects for stock footage.

People – A sure-fire idea for stock footage is film of people, in all their shapes and forms. While it may seem like an obvious subject for stock footage, it is a simple idea and easy to produce. Shots of people interacting in different casual settings are easy and cheap to film. Scenes of people in the park, people working in the office, or people at the market are just a few examples. When filming in public, though, be sure you have the correct permits as well as the permission of the subjects you are filming.

Hopefully these simple ideas help spark your imagination enough so that you can produce some of your own stock footage. Now get out there and start filming!