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The Sensory Guru

February 2009

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Music is an integral part of the bar scene today, running the gamut from techno to rhythm and blues. Every outlet seeks to create its own sonic ambience. And therefore every responsible bar or club proprietor needs at least an accurate working knowledge of the laws of music licensing.

Why so? Firstly, to avoid any legal liability. The business sector has experienced recent house cleanings on account of unlicensed business software, and this trend towards greater legal compliance has found it’s counterpart in the entertainment industry too.

Secondly, it’s clearly ethical to observe the legal laws surrounding music licensing and copyrights. So what follows is a musical licensing 101.

The most important thing to remember about music copyright is that there are two distinct copyrights in a recording. The first is the copyright as to the composition. This is analogous to an author writing a book, and includes the lyrics, melody and other compositional aspects of the song. The second copyright is the recording of the song, that is the actual sound that comes off of a CD, record, or MP3. This is a separate work of creative expression, and therefore gets its own copyright.

The problem facing the entire music industry, however, is that the freewheeling nature of the internet, combined with compressed digital audio formats like MP3 that can be easily copied, has led to an epidemic of copyright infringement affecting both music, lyrics and sound recording.

Despite the changing landscape of the music industry, digital music on computers and the internet is neverthess protected by the same laws that protect music on records, tapes and CDs, along with several laws that focus specifically on digital music.

Copyright law establishes rights for both copyright holders and for purchasers of copyrighted works. A business has different legal requirements to comply with compared to a customer.

When a song or piece of music is written, the person who wrote it owns the copyright and therefore has the right to decide how and when it should be played. Music is released, allowing individuals to purchase a song which they can play at home. However, if an individual then wishes to play that song to a wider group of people (for example in their business premises), it is classed as a “public performance”.

If you want to make a “public performance” you must first seek permission from the copyright owner of that song before you do so. This permission is known as licence.

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