February 14

Can I Play Copyrighted Music in My Restaurant?

And Other Answers to Common Music, Movie, and TV Copyright Licensing Questions for Restaurants

Entertainment is a huge part of a well-run restaurant or bar. It adds to your ambiance and branding, but most importantly, it makes guests feel comfortable. 

While music typically blends into the everyday hustle and bustle, it’s as much a staple of any bar or restaurant as whiskey or salt is—and when it’s off, that usually means it’s time to get the fuck out. 

The same goes for playing movies or sports! Many guests rely on their local watering hole to provide a good show. It’s their way of creating community over a shared interest. 

While some kind of audio and visual element is expected—it’s not a free for all.  To play music, movies, and even sports in your bar or restaurant, there are a few things you need to know about copyright licensing laws. 

We wanted to make sure you understand the ins and outs of playing copyrighted media in your public space so you can avoid them fines and fees.  

Can I play copyrighted music in my restaurant?

Short answer? No. There is an easy fix, though. If you use Spotify or Pandora, you can buy a pro plan directly from them. Spotify is currently $35 per month, and Pandora is $26 per month with a one-time fee of $99. 

The reason is paying for a personal Spotify or Pandora subscription only grants you permission to play this music in your home, car, or personal device… not your business or anywhere public where other people can hear it, hence your restaurant.

For iTunes, it seems you’ll need to pay for a license through a company like CloudCoverMusic.com. The way this works is they pay for a license directly to the PRO (Performing Rights Organization) like BMI or ASCAP – these organizations pay the royalties to the artist for you.

What happens if I get caught playing copyrighted music in my business or restaurant?

You can for sure get sued, and it’s a minimum fine of $750 up to a whopping $150,000 per offense (and by offense I mean per freakin’ song)! I found many examples of local bars, restaurants, and national chains that got straight-up rocked in court for not playing by the rules and getting a pro license to play music.

I know margins are tight now more than ever, but this seems easily affordable compared to paying a fine, let alone the lawyer to defend you if you’re caught.

Can I play movies in my restaurant?

Again, big ol’ nope on this one too. The Motion Picture Licensing Company or MPLC (because I don’t want to keep spelling that) offers unlimited licensing for television and films for your restaurant. The cost is based on the type and size of your business, but I hear it typically costs around $315 per year.

You can get one of these through MLPC.org. You have to apply and give some information about your business to get a quote. 

What about playing movies from streaming services like Netflix in my Bar?

Yep, an umbrella license from MPLC will allow you to play movies—or sports—using any legal format like streaming services, broadcasts, cable, satellite, DVD/Blu-ray, or legal download. 

Also, unlike other services where you have to report when, what, and where you’ll be playing a movie – MLPC’s umbrella license means you play what you want and never have to report the titles you show.

Long story short, for about $750 a year, you can keep those customers happy with your favorite jams and movies without fear of punishment— and if you want to punish your customers, you can play Starship, Limp Bizkit, or just Rickroll the bar at closing until everyone pays their tab and leaves. 

About the author

Jakup Martini

Jakup Martini likes to quote the movie Ghostbusters in social settings... During the rectification of the Vuldronaii, the Traveler came as a large and moving Torb! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the Meketrex supplicants, they chose a new form for him - that of a giant Sloar! Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of a Sloar that day, I can tell you!


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