ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, And Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) — everyone has seen these letters in the liner notes of CDs that we’ve bought. So what do these people do? They are performing rights organizations, and simply put, they make sure that musicians get paid!
The owner of a copyright is entitled to the exclusive right of public performance for his or her protected work — in this case, a song — and is entitled to be compensated for when others perform the song publicly. A “public performance” is a term defined by the law and includes use in television, radio, movies, bars, clubs, restaurants, and so on. In fact, such things as the number of speakers in an establishment, the volume at which a song is played, and the size of the room where the music is being played determine a public performance.
Now enter the performing rights organizations that undertake the task of collecting the revenues for these performances and paying the artists their justly deserved money (and, of course, all of this is done for a fee). An artist first becomes a member of one of the “societies” and registers their songs with that organization. That organization issues blanket licenses, for a predetermined fee, that entitle the holders of those licenses to publicly perform all songs that are registered with the organization. The organization then makes their best efforts to monitor how often each registered song is played and pays the appropriate royalties to the writer and publisher.
So how do they know what is being “publicly performed?” ASCAP will review radio station logs of songs that were played. They will also randomly tape thousands of hours of radio broadcasts and use these tapes to calculate the frequency of the performances, and royalties are paid accordingly. ASCAP will also send their employees into clubs and bars to monitor what songs are being played. BMI has a computer program into which they input information received from a cross-section of radio stations, which in turn provides them with a statistical approximation frequency of performances, and they pay royalties accordingly. However, BMI does not monitor live performances.
Bottom line is that these companies are good for musicians. They work to get you paid, and getting paid is a good thing. But you have to remember to register with one of them because if you aren’t registered anywhere, you won’t be getting any performance royalties.
Musicians’ Legal Representation
[Ed note:This article is not intended as legal advice. If you have specific legal concerns, contact an attorney.]