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Copyright laws when it comes to music and entertainment

Music is not free -- even when it is used only for background music in an office or a restaurant. Many people are not aware that they are infringing upon California copyright laws any time they play a musician's or author's music in a public place. That is why so many restaurant and bar owners are surprised when they receive a letter or call informing them that they owe fees for copyright infringement.

Anytime music is played for the public, a liability for the music is acquired under United States copyright law. This is how musicians, composers and publishers protect their music rights. The liability is called a royalty.

How long can a musician, composer or publisher collect royalties on their music?

The owner's right to royalties of their copyrighted work lasts for the length of their life plus another 70 years. Then the copyright term expires and the music is free for public use. However, if the work is re-orchestrated or re-charted, the new music may have its own royalty fees from the owner of the remake.

How are royalties charged for multiple songs and music compositions?

Performing rights organizations represent songwriters, composers and publishers who become members of the organizations. Their music becomes a part of the group membership of the organization. Royalties are paid through a licensing agreement that charges a fee or rate for use of the collective music belonging to the organization.

There are several different music organizations. Some of the largest are the American Society of Composers, Broadcast Music, Inc. and Artists & Publishers. These organizations charge fees for use of their music collections per their own schedule of rates, which may be based on things such as how large your facility is, if you charge a cover fee, if the music will be used by a live band and so on.

Are there guidelines the organizations must follow?

California law requires these organizations to make the most current list of their members and affiliates available electronically for proprietors. They must also provide written details of their fees 72 hours prior to having a contract signed. The details must include rates paid by comparable businesses as well.

An attorney can provide answers to questions about any legality issues when using music in a public place.

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