Licensing music in the United States – what is ASCAP?

Licensing music in the United States – what is ASCAP?

When a musician creates a new song, they are granted a copyright to that song.  This means that the musician has the exclusive right to perform and distribute copies of their song.  If someone else sells copies or publicly plays a copyrighted song that is considered copyright infringement in the United States.

There is a huge demand for music worldwide.  Music helps create a mood in a restaurant and brings life to a party.  When a business, like a restaurant or bar, wants to play music for their customers, the business needs to get a license to play songs which are copyrighted.  If the business does not get a license this would be considered copyright infringement.

In reality, it would be very time consuming for every business to get a license from every musician for every copyrighted song.  If businesses and musicians had to create license agreements for every song there would be little time left to do anything else.  To help streamline the music licensing process several organizations have been formed in the United States.  One such organization is the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers or ASCAP for short.

ASCAP is a membership association of more than 650,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers.  ASCAP operates as a non profit entity distributing all revenues, less operating expenses, to its composers and publishers in the form of royalties. ASCAP manages a portfolio of over 11.5 million songs.

A business that wants to play music for customers can contact ASCAP and get a license to play songs which are managed by ASCAP.  This allows the business to play licensed music without having to worry about copyright infringement and it allows musicians to concentrate on creating new songs.

ASCAP provides a website for businesses to request a license.  The type of license a business should get depends on the business.  Restaurants, websites, radio stations and television stations all have different types of licenses with different fees.

ASCAP polices the use of music it licenses also.  If ASCAP learns that a restaurant is playing copyrighted music without a license ASCAP will send a private investigator to gather evidence of copyright infringement and then bring a lawsuit on behalf of the musician that wrote the song.  The damages for copyright infringement are substantial and most small businesses are not financially capable of defending a copyright infringement lawsuit.   For this reason a business that wants to play music should get an ASCAP license.

ASCAP provides a service that benefits musicians and helps businesses avoid copyright infringement trouble.

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