How Do Bars and Restaurants Get Rights to Play Radio, TV, Audio and Video on Their Premises?

The article, “Don’t Ruin a Perfect Evening: Get the Appropriate Licenses for Radio and TV in Restaurants and Bars,” from Landslide, the magazine of the American Bar Association’s Intellectual Property Division:


David D. Oxenford is a partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP in Washington, D.C., who practices communications, media, and copyright law. He is also the editor and principal writer of the Broadcast Law Blog,

Rachel S. Wolkowitz is an associate at the same firm, where she focuses on communications, technology, and intellectual property matters.

Music can help set the stage for a great dinner, and the decision about the coffee shop you patronize may depend on the music they play or whether they have live performances from time to time. Your choice of the location for a casual weekend lunch may be influenced by whether a restaurant or bar has the big game on their TV sets. While music and audiovisual content (i.e., DVDs, live television, Internet videos, streaming television and movies, etc.) may influence the choice of your eating or drinking venue or set the mood once you are there, they need to be part of the business and legal compliance plan for food entrepreneurs looking to open the next hot restaurant or bar. In most cases, rights for music and audiovisual content need to be secured, and the failure to do so can cause as much heartburn as a bad meal.

From time to time, the popular press picks up on tales of woe from owners of restaurants who do not take copyright issues into account when opening their business and end up facing a demand from a representative of copyright holders looking for their payments, or worse, a lawsuit when the payments are not forthcoming.1 In 2014, a 55-seat coffee shop in Missouri that featured live music about once a month was surprised when it got hit with calls from songwriter’s organizations asking for nearly $2,000 a year for the rights to perform live music (on top of the monthly fee that the owners already paid to a music service for the music that regularly played in their venue).2 Given that the live music did not contribute to the bottom line—it was reportedly being done as an accommodation to local artists to give them a place to play—rather than pay the fees, the shop pulled the plug on the monthly live music event. Stories like this are common.3


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