All Music Is Free! (Not)

Let’s talk about music licensing issues. After all these years, we still run into lots of folks who are either playing the radio or a music CD on hold, if they have a premise-based phone switch, or they loaded a few of their favorite MP3’s on the hosted service their phone guy is a dealer for.  A few phone guys are still suggesting this is legal.  It never was. (Aside from the legal issues – why would your customer want to play someone else’s radio ads for their callers on hold?)

Here is the issue – most of the music you hear on the radio, or that is on a CD, or on iTunes\Spotify\Pandora\XM-Sirius — is copyrighted.  The people who wrote that music have some control over where it is played and when.  One of the several agencies that protect the rights of these copyright holders is ASCAP – the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.  Those are the folks watching out for the rights of the composers – and they will pursue you or your customer if the radio, CD or MP3 is being used on hold (or on the background music system in stores or restaurants, for that matter). What does “pursue” mean?  Everything from offering your customer a license for the “right” to play the music to a lawsuit for unauthorized use of the music.

Playing the radio, CD or MP3 on hold is a “public performance” of the music, in legal terms. Taken from the ASCAP website:

“A public performance is also one that is transmitted to the public; for example, radio or television broadcasts, music-on-hold, cable television, and by the internet.” When you place a caller on hold and transmit music via your telephone lines, that is a public performance of the music. It is your responsibility to obtain permission to perform ASCAP songs from ASCAP or directly from the copyright owner.”

What this means is that when there is a public performance of music, the creator of the music must be paid.  

The bottom line – it is not legal to play the radio, CD or MP3 on hold without permission, your customers are taking a chance by doing so, and there are better solutions. Reputable on hold companies purchase royalty-free music for use as background for on hold recordings – music that is made for that use.  The same goes for background music in a store or restaurant – you can purchase subscriptions from music services that include the music licensing fee.  

We’re here to help you navigate through all this, and help advise you, and your customer.  Call us!

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