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Music at Your Event: Do You Need a License?


Music is a big part of creating a festive scene at the start/finish of any race or event. Most of us have hundreds if not thousands of songs on our iPods or phones that we have purchased on iTunes or other services. If you have been just plugging your device into the PA system and blasting your carefully crafted and curated playlist from your collection, then you are most likely in violation of copyright law. At RaceDirector we do not want to have to help anyone with an attorney referral, so here is how to be legit.

Music at Your Event:  Do You Need a License?

The short and direct answer to the question in the title is a simple and definitive YES. Merely buying the song on iTunes does not afford you any public performance rights for that material. Belting out Beyoncé in your shower at home or singing along to the theme song from Frozen when your kids are not in the car is probably not pretty for most of us, but that is legal unfortunately. Music is intellectual property and the creators maintain those public performance rights.

The one sure way to be legally in the clear is to obtain permission from the copyright holder or their legal representative. In this case we are talking about the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI). ASCAP represents over 575,000 artists that includes a catalog of millions of songs. BMI does not make their numbers as public, but they are almost as large. An artist can only be a member of one of these groups at any given time, so it could be necessary to get a license from both depending on your selections.

Most of the time when a business owner or entrepreneur hears the term "licensing fee". They get out the check book and get ready to take one in the shorts. This would be true if you are dealing with federal agencies, your local county office, or the DMV. Thankfully, as daunting as all this sounds, the fees are not too unreasonable. For example: If you put on an event and obtain a license from ASCAP when all your proceeds go to charity and you have less than 5,500 attendees, then the one-day fee is only $10! If you do generate some profit and not all of your proceeds are donated then the fee would be $102. BMI's rate structure is a tad more expensive, but offers a sliding scale similar to ASCAP's. Below are direct links to the licensing pages on the respective websites. Look for the complete fee schedules under the category for Endurance/Racing Events.

A frequent question that comes up in this conversation involves the use of a professional DJ at an event. Many people think the DJ or artist performing a song live would be responsible for having the proper license. Case law seems to support the fact that ultimately the business or venue that is benefitting from the performance is ultimately the responsible party. This means you Mister/ Miss head-banging race director!

What are the odds that BMI or ASCAP is going to come down on an individual putting on a few small events to make some money on the side? Pretty darn slim, but the price of a license is significantly less than if some suit in New York City decides that your event is the perfect case to "set an example". So cover this one additional detail properly and you can enjoy the festivities at the post race party with no worries!

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