ASCAP, BMI and SESAC FAQs
In the last few months we’ve had the opportunity to talk to the leaderships of lots of dance clubs. Many of the clubs felt compelled to address their particular situations and investigate affiliating with the NFA in order to come under our ASCAP, BMI and SESAC license umbrella. A couple dozen clubs listed herein have done so and we expect that many more will follow.
We’d like to share what we’ve learned in our conversations because there is an awful lot of misleading and downright wrong information floating around. We’ve addressed some of these issues here in a question/answer format.
1. The deejay that plays at our club dances claims to have licenses to play copyrighted music.
Question– Based upon this, is our club protected against copyright infringement of the music played?
Answer– No, the club presenting the dance activity is not protected. Neither BMI nor SESAC provide licenses to deejays so your deejay is not licensed by two out of the three Performing Rights organizations. This leaves ASCAP. ASCAP does license deejays but even this licenses does not extend protection to the club, only to the deejay. What ASCAP is concerned with is; who is presenting the venue where the music is being played? In this case, it’s the club. For major multi-day events, it is the host/sponsor of the event. Again, it is the club or event host/sponsor that is responsible for securing all three licenses in order to present copyrighted music at their dance venue. Look at it this way; if the club presenting the dance or the host/sponsor presenting the multi-day event were not actually doing so, then no music would be being presented, thus there would be no copyright infringement.
2. Our club has dances one night each week at a local lounge.
Question– Must the music being played in the lounge be licensed and if so, by whom?
Answer– Yes, the music must be licensed by all three Performing Rights organizations. A deejay playing there may have an ASCAP license is not sufficient for the same reasons as outlined in question one. It is the responsibility of the lounge owner/management to secure these licenses. Many lounges have ASCAP, some may also have BMI. But very few have all three that would include SESAC. It is very important that the leadership of your club contacts the owner/management in order to confirm that they have all three licenses. They should be diplomatically required to provide documented proof of this; do not take their word for this. The importance of including SESAC boils down to the fact that even though they are the smallest of the three Performing Rights organizations, they have just as much authority in enforcing Federal Copyright laws as their older and larger sister organizations, ASCAP and BMI.
3. We are hosts/sponsors of a multi-day event at a local hotel. The hotel claims to have ASCAP, BMI and SESAC licenses.
Question– Will the hotel licenses extend to and cover our event?
Answer– Partly yes but mostly no. Of the three licenses, SESAC is the only one that will allow their license to extend to and cover your event. ASCAP and BMI will not. Again, ASCAP and BMI are only interested in who is presenting the event. It is the hosts/sponsors that are doing so, not the hotel and so the hosts/sponsors are responsible for obtaining licenses.
4. Question– Are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC agencies within the federal bureaucracy?
Answer– No, all three are public corporations with offices in Nashville, Atlanta and New York primarily. They are in no way affiliated with the Federal Trades Commission or the Federal Communications Commission. But they do have the authority under federal law to enforce Federal Copyright Laws covered specifically by Title 17 of the United States Code. ASCAP and BMI especially employ state or regional reps. Scattered all across America. These reps. monitor the activities under their purview within their geographical areas of
responsibility. A major source of information that they have access to is the Internet so if your club or event has a website, you are telling the world about all of your dance activities and how you may be in violation of Federal Copyright Laws.
5. We have a video on our website that has background music on it.
Question-Is the use of this music allowed per my blanket license agreement with you folks?
Answer– No, streaming of music on a website, whether within an accompanying video or not, is not authorized or licensed by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. According to the statutes, you have to go direct to the artist or his/her publisher to obtain written authorization. This can be very difficult and possibly expensive to do so as you’ll have to pay royalties. Otherwise you can take the chance and hope that you don’t get caught but we definitely wouldn’t recommend it.