Understanding the Performing Right and Why it Matters to Musicians

With so much talk recently about intellectual property rights, and the associated views on fair use of those properties, it is important to understand why intellectual property rights do still matter. Of course intellectual property licensing comes in all sorts of iterations, and to cover them in a single article would be a tough read. Therefore, we will concentrate on the performing right and the associated performance license.

Simply put, a public performance is the broadcast of a song, recorded or live, in a public venue or over a public network. This includes radio stations, bars, television, gyms, and pretty much any other venue that publicly offers music. In order to offer music to the public via a public performance, a license for that performance must be obtained. In the United States, these licensing are mainly offered by three Performing Rights Organizations (PROs). The two largest are ASCAP and BMI, with the privately held SESAC coming in at a very distant third in terms of total catalog.

You may ask yourself, why do business owners need to pay for music that they have already purchased via CD, download, or through a broadcast. The simple answer is that the performance right is really intended to provide income to the creators and publishers of music works. When business owners purchase a recording, they are providing relatively little income to the writers of the songs represented on that recording. Further, as defined by law, that recording has only been purchased for private no-commercial use. As a result, a public performance would not be covered through the simple purchase of a recording.

A performance license, then, is intended to compensate the creator of the songs and the publishers of represent those songs. In essence, the performance license represents the income to the artists who write the music we love, rather than the performers of that music. Clearly, the laws around licensing and performance of music can be complicated and often difficult to understand, but in the end, the performance license is a relatively small price to pay to keep the compositions and lyrics flowing.

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Comments 6 comments

John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

...intersting hub...voted as such

Take care

John


T. R. Brown profile image

T. R. Brown 4 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Thanks John


NetBlots profile image

NetBlots 4 years ago from Melbourne

I'm a musician myself, and am always defending musicians as a result. I spent a day further learning about music theory etc over the weekend, but I must say, I do not agree with this article.

I am an entreprenuer, and love money filling my bank account, but when it comes to musid, this is my professional hobby. I don't want money made from this where I don't think it's justified. And I don't see how someone playing music at a venue of any type should have to pay any more passed the original cd purchase.

At the end of the day, they are endorsing your music, and playing it to a crowd of prospective fans. Honestly, I sometimes wonder why the musicians don't pay to have it played to such a crowd.

To me, fans are more important than customers, and worrying about the litigation of silly laws.


T. R. Brown profile image

T. R. Brown 4 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

I certainly like to hear dissenting voices, but I think you may have missed the point of the article. You may well play for free in an effort to promote your band and/or your music. However, that does not grant you the right under settled law, to play the composition of another writer. That writer/composer would receive no benefit whatever for the performance nor has that writer/composer given you permission to use the work without having secured the license.

I understand that you may disagree with the law, but that is wholly different than explaining how the law actually works, which was the intent here. Further, it is not your responsibility to insure that the establishment in which you play has properly licensed the music that is played. That responsibility and the associated liability for failure to license reside with the establishment. You may certainly grant a direct license to the establishment for the performance of your work, but that would only cover the works for which you have 100% ownership. The second you break out into Free Bird, the establishment would be in violation of Federal law.

In any event, I would recommend that if you intend to make music more than a hobby, you would do well to understand every aspect of the business. The artists who really understand how to monetize their music are the ones who have lasting power.

I was recently talking to an artist who fronts a band that you would know, and he relayed an interesting conversation he had with another very successful guy. They were writing together and guy 1 was checking on his catalog and earnings on-line. Guy 2 asked him what he was doing, and guy 1 simply said “paying attention.” True story and a great lesson for making money in music.


DFiduccia profile image

DFiduccia 4 years ago from Las Vegas

Thanks for this Hub.

We live in times when people accept piracy as a way of life without consideration for the artists and/or composers to music. It is so unacceptable that the creator of a work, whether it is music or a literary composition, has to spend money to pursue legal actions against the illegal use of their copyrighted work.

Voted up!


T. R. Brown profile image

T. R. Brown 4 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Thanks very much DFiduccia! You made the point well.

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