Do you know there are federal laws event planners should be aware of if they want to use music at a public event? Most people think because they buy their favorite artist’s CD, they have the right to play that CD anywhere they want to, including at an event. However, Federal laws protect all recorded music. Read the legalese on the CD: “Unauthorized copying, lending, public performance and broadcasting prohibited.” That means you. Recording companies, musicians, and songwriters own the copyright, and are entitled to royalties every time the music is performed or played in public.

If you want to use recorded music at an event, you need to contact one of the music license organizations and pay a fee. Music licensing organizations include: American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) and SESAC Inc. ASCAP and BMI hold 95 percent of the copyrights for American music. The organization sponsoring the event is considered to be controlling the “performance.” Therefore, it is important for the event planner to make sure this is done and not pass this responsibility to someone else without verifying the fee has been paid.

The fees for using recorded and live music depend on the number of attendees. The fee can be less than $100. There is a Blanket License Agreement that is good for one year for tradeshows. This fee currently starts at a little over $100. If the fee is not paid to a music license organization, the penalty can be up to $30,000 per song. Failure to sign agreements also could subject an organizing sponsor to costly and embarrassing litigation for copyright infringement. Be warned: Licensing companies win almost all legal cases.