Performance License – Legalities

First off folks, BUY your music.  I do not care if you are DJing in your back yard to your dog and your cat…. IF  you get caught playing or downloading illegally copied music,  you loose EVERYTHING… your job, your reputation, your credibility, your equipment, do I need to say more??  The chances of you getting any of this back is pretty NIL!   NOT TO MENTION IT IS STEALING!!!!!!!  Please also note that this article applies to the US. From my understanding from my Canadian and UK DJ Buddies, they have to have a license to play the music, no question about it.

With that out of the way… let’s dive more into this topic, shall we?

Key thing to remember is that JUST because you have purchased all of your music, does not give you the right to make money off it and play songs for large crowds outside of your back yard to your dog and cat. 🙂

The Copyright Law of the United States, states that the owner or operator of the establishment where the music is being played is responsible for obtaining the required authorization. The compensation you provide to a performer such as a DJ or band does not relieve you of this obligation.

When you purchase a record, tape, compact disc, DVD or similar product you are granted the authorization for a non-public performance, such as in your home or car. There is no public performance right attached to the sale of these products and if you decide to play this music in your establishment you are required to obtain authorization from the copyright owner or their representative.

Penalties for law violations are pretty stiff folks.

As a DJ you should make sure the venue you are playing has all of the proper performance licensing. I think the above quote is self explanatory. I would like to point out that many venues try to bring the licensing down onto the DJ, thinking they do not need one. That is incorrect. 🙂

Aren’t musicians, entertainers and DJ’s responsible for obtaining permission for music they perform?
Some people mistakenly assume that musicians and entertainers must obtain licenses to perform copyrighted music or that businesses where music is performed can shift their responsibility to musicians or entertainers. The law says all who participate in, or are responsible for, performances of music are legally responsible. Since it is the business owner who obtains the ultimate benefit from the performance, it is the business owner who obtains the license. Music license fees are one of the many costs of doing business.
SOURCE: ASCAP Licensing Faq Page

Performance License – Confusion

We saw in the legalities section what the copyright law says about purchasing of music, you are not granted the authorization for a public performance. This is very tricky if you are a DJ.

Some DJs have been confused in the past about carrying membership in performing arts organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC because the rules differ depending on the performance type. The way their licensing is structured, it is actually the responsibility of the venue (bar, nightclub, etc.) to maintain membership and pay royalties. DJs playing for the public (so not for private events like weddings) then provide a list to the venue of the music that was played – that’s it. If a DJ plays for the public outside of a licensed establishment, then they are responsible for paying the royalties. This type of copyright licensing has absolutely nothing to do with weddings and private events. Just to be sure, I went straight to the source and asked these organizations directly. Here’s what they said:

“ASCAP does not license DJs. It is the venue, establishment, or promoter of an event that is responsible for public performance licensing, not the performer. Private events such as weddings, etc. are exempt from licensing.”
– Bryn Caryl, ASCAP

“BMI licenses the “public performance” of music… events such as private parties and weddings are not required to have a license.”
– Jaqui Garlan, BMI

“Royalty fees are not collected for private performances.”
– David Derryberry, SESAC

Source: Truth Squad Does My Wedding DJ Need A License?

That covers PRIVATE events.. weddings, birthday parties, etc. Many DJs are not going to have to have these licenses (unless they are in the UK or Canada.) Most of us are going to work for a venue who has to have it OR a private event we are hired for. Sure radio stations are going to need one, but if you are a DJ working for a radio station, you fall under theirs.. unless you OWN the station you do not need your own.

Performance License – Why I have them!

There is one “exception” when the DJ becomes a promoter, rents a hall, and plays at a public (not private) event. I have been known to do this. 🙂 I also used to be a part owner in an online radio station where I was required to have them. Call me paranoid, I also like that I have my own in case I forgot to ask the venue to see theirs, or they let theirs expire. I am covered at that point….

I also own a venue online in Second Life. I feel that because of this fact, I still need to have those licenses to cover not only myself but the DJs that I employ. It is a club where anyone can gather and party…. music is played.. not sure if they are actually needed in a virtual world, I still feel the need to have these anyway. I want to be fair to the musicians and fair to my own DJs.

Performance License – The Places To Get Your Own

Again you may not even need them unless you are doing promotions, running your own venue or radio station.
Here are the links for you to check out and acquire a license if you need one.

Featured image at the top of this page is from Eleven80Studios

Bri K is a mom and grandmother, enjoying the next chapter of her life on the mission of leveling up after 50! Bri doesn't believe that once you hit a certain age or become a grandmother, your likes, hobbies, or lifestyle have to change. "You don't stop living because your kids grew up!"

3 Thoughts on “DJ Tip – Performance License, Do I Need One?”

  • Very informative. I didn’t know there was these licenses. It’s good to be informed on what to look into getting or needing.

    • There is a lot of confusion on this topic as it is. I still don’t know if I need them for Second Life or not, but to me it’s better to be safe then sorry. I also am considering opening another radio station in the future. I am sure my licensing will need to be upgraded for that at some point. We will see. Thank you for your comment.

  • Very informative def don’t want to see anyone to lose everything, and go through paying all the fines that come with playing and obtaining music

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