Clarification on Need for License to Play Music in Your Facility

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The American Health Care Association (AHCA) has provided clarification on the need for a license to play music in a facility.  According to AHCA, some long term care facilities have been contacted by one or more of the three entities which hold copyrights for music, BMI, SESAC, or ASCAP.  These contacts, by letter or telephone call, assert the facility is violating US Copyright laws by playing music in a “public space”.  They are requesting the provider apply and pay for A license to play music in their communities (both assisted living and nursing centers).

Under the 1976 Copyright Act, the holder of the copyright or its assigns (BMI, SESAC or ASCAP) has the exclusive right to reproduce the work and, in the case of a sound recording, to perform the copyrighted work publiclyPerform has a broad definition and includes singing, playing music, broadcasting, playing a CD or DVD, or turning on a radio or TV.  Publicly means to perform any place where a substantial number of persons outside a normal circle of family and social acquaintances hear the music or it is open to the public.

Examples of situations where playing music may be a public performance include live performances, DJs, Karaoke, music in common areas, Large screen or multiple TVs, background music, resident social gathering/holiday events, and aerobic/dance/fitness classes.

There are two exceptions which may apply:

  • Areas less than 2,000 total square feet (excluding residential areas) may be excluded from having to obtain a license.
  • Live performances for residents in a not-for-profit community that does not create any direct or indirect commercial activity (marketing) do not need a license.  A local choir singing Christmas carols would be an example.

A determination of whether you need a license from BMI, SESAC and or ASCAP will depend on the specific circumstances in your community.  AHCA recommends providers consult their attorney before deciding to apply for a license.

More information is available on the website of each of the licensing entities: