Restaurant Music Copyright Law: What’s Playing?

New York City restaurant owners need to make sure establishing the proper vibe for their restaurant doesn’t include music copyright violations. 

Manhattan restaurant lawyers are seeing a significant increase in the number of copyright violations filed nationwide. In large part, this is due to the birth of the information age and the onslaught of data available online. Photo copyright, in particular, is an active area of the law. And an increasing number of print publications are pursuing copyright violations as the nation’s largest news organizations enact paywalls and take other steps to protect their profits and financial viability.

Adding to the scrutiny are law firms and agencies which are identifying violations and offering to pursue offenders on behalf of the rightful copyright owner — for a fee, of course!

Last fall, the National Association of Licensing and Compliance Professionals (NALCP) held its annual conference in Philadelphia. BMI Executive Dan Spears warned restaurant and bar owners they could be liable for copyright violations unless rights had been purchased from performing rights organizations like BMI.

Playing music downloaded on iTunes is illegal for a commercial purpose. Owners may also run afoul of copyright laws when broadcasting recorded movies or sporting events. Under Section 101 of the Copyright Act, displaying a work publicly means ” to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.”

BMI said it may file more than 100 copyright infringement suits against restaurants and bars in a given year. Penalties can range as high as $30,000 per song.

One option for owners looking to protect themselves is to purchase licenses. BMI offers restaurant licenses for about $650. A music service, or satellite radio provider, may also be used as long as the provider includes a license from performing rights organizations.

Tivo, iTunes and other means of storing, recording and replaying copyrighted material has complicated the legal picture. In cases where a violation is determined to be willful, fines may exceed $100,000.

The Wright Law Firm is a business law firm located in Midtown Manhattan. Call (212) 619-1500 for a confidential consultation.

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