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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.