Meetings & Conventions: The Sound of Music - September
The Sound of Music
How to pay for the right to use tunes to enhance a meeting
By Terence Baker
The opening session welcomes the crowd with a
lively rendition of "La Donna è Mobile" from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera
Rigoletto, and Sonny Rollins’ jazz numbers set a low-key tone at
break time. Attendees love it, but chances are, the planner is
infringing on copyright law. In fact, a manager playing music to
set a particular mood at the office is committing the same
Many planners realize they need to get legal clearance and pay a
fee before putting their meetings and events to music. Many,
however, do not. But that gap is slowly closing, say sources.
"Fewer meeting planners are playing music without a license,"
believes Kathleen Merrill, executive vice president for Parker
Music Group (www.MusicClearance.com), a
Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based company that obtains legal clearance for
copyrighted music. One reason: "Publishers and record companies are
suing more aggressively anyone using music without proper
clearance," she says.
For some who play without paying, ignorance is to blame. One
Massachusetts-based planner told M&C that, when
organizing his first convention, he gave absolutely no thought to
music licensing. "It simply did not occur to me. I was horrified
when I learned that my show was not properly licensed."
For others, it’s just not high on the priority list. Jonathan
Howe, senior partner at the law firm Howe & Hutton, Ltd., in
Chicago, says the music industry has tried to raise planners’
awareness of their obligations. "If you ask meeting planners what
they consider to be their own intellectual property, they will then
see how important it is to be covered," says Howe. "The issue is
one of fairness."
Licensed to bill
To make matters simpler for planners, the three main performing
rights societies representing musicians Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI),
the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP),
and SESAC Inc. have created blanket agreements for copyright
clearance rather than charging on a song-per-song basis. "Rates
vary, but the system is designed to spread the cost of music
around," says Jerry Bailey, director of media relations at BMI (www.bmi.com), which, in
most cases, charges five cents per registered attendee beyond a
minimum annual fee of $100. In other words, for an event with 1,000
attendees, the host organization would pay $500, regardless of how
often BMI music was played. If this were the group’s only use of
music for the year, it would pay an annual fee of $100, plus $400
ASCAP (www.ascap.com) offers two types of
licenses for meeting planners. The first, for those organizing 10
or fewer meetings, exacts a charge for each convention attendee,
plus a live music fee. The license for those organizing 10 or more
meetings commands a slightly higher fee for each attendee, but
there is no extra charge for live music. An advantage of the first
type of license is that the meeting planner must submit only one
report per year detailing meetings and attendance lists, while the
second method requires planners to submit reports quarterly.
In addition, ASCAP’s Music in Business license covers all
meetings where only that particular company’s staff are present, as
well as events such as holiday parties, telephone hold music and
music played in the office above a certain volume.
SESAC (www.sesac.com) takes a different
approach, says Bill Lee, director of music licensing operations for
the company. "We license the facility for their own use and for
that of those using the facility, so quite often the meeting
planner does not need additional coverage." In other words, if the
facility has a SESAC license, the planner does not need one in
order to play SESAC music in that venue.
Of the three main performing rights societies representing
composers and musicians, BMI and ASCAP control almost all
copyrighted songs, but it is wise for planners to have coverage
with SESAC as well, sources agree. SESAC, which primarily
represents gospel artists, also has a handful of big-name clients,
including Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan.
Some planners might choose to use the work of only one of the
three performing rights societies, but that requires keeping track
of who owns the rights to what music and foregoing that "perfect"
song for a particular event if it falls under another umbrella
organization. Another option is per-song licensing. For those
organizing huge trade shows with multiple exhibitors, this
certainly is not practical.
In some cases, the onus of securing proper music licensing is
passed along to exhibitors. "Exhibitors must provide proof that
they have the necessary clearance if they intend to play music,"
says a planner who organizes conventions and trade shows for toy
manufacturers. "This puts the responsibility on the stall holder,
which is beneficial to us, as the shows we arrange are so
Confused? For events held overseas, the picture gets even more
complicated: You need license agreements with the host countries’
performing rights societies as well. However, the United States is
one of few countries with more than one performing rights society.
Abroad, the chances of having to deal with multiple bodies are
unlikely. Nashville-based Laurie Hughes, director of business
affairs for ASCAP, says, "In Europe, music rights are protected in
a broader manner."
On the road
Hotels and resorts also have their own licenses for the public
playing of music. Such licenses might also cover the meeting
planner but only in some cases. Meeting planners should check to
see what the hotel’s coverage is and whether they need additional
coverage for their event.
Another consideration: A trade show or convention organizer
might be held liable if exhibitors play music without prior
copyright clearance. If the organizer has the necessary coverage
for the event, this should not be a problem, and any additional
fees often are passed on to exhibitors.
Furthermore, if music is used for promotional campaigns or other
pre- or post-show advertising, be sure the organization’s license
Unless a meeting planner needs a specific piece of music for a
specific project and intends only to use it once, there is little
point in trying to secure clearance for music on a song-per-song
basis. Kathleen Merrill explains that in order to be free of
copyright obligations, a meeting planner would have to get
clearance and permission from several sources.
A song might have one or several composers, plus an owner of the
master recording, all of whom must be contacted, says Merrill. If
the particular piece of music is a musician’s recording of another
artist’s work, the musicians and the composers are likely to be
represented by different performing rights societies, complicating
matters further. This is where companies such as Parker Music Group
come into play, as do the blanket license agreements.
Also, the same song might be represented by more than one
performing rights society, depending on geographical location, even
within the United States. Each of the three performing rights
societies have lists of the songs and artists they represent, so
planners can easily find who to contact for proper clearance.
Who checks? A spokesperson for the American Society of
Association Executives says, “ASAE understands that the performing
rights societies have their own investigators, and they have been
known to sue in federal court.” ASAE, together with several other
meetings industry groups, recently was involved in negotiations
with BMI that saw the minimum rate for BMI licenses reduced from
$175 to $100.
The deal lets trade show management companies cover the
performing rights fees of clients and exhibitors, thus saving
clients the related paperwork. Relying on management firms to
oversee music licensing can be an attractive option for smaller
associations with limited staff.
SHOULD YOU DOWNLOAD?Free music at your
The concept has caused much strife in the music
industry and was being debated in the courts at press time.
What’s it all about? In a nutshell, MP3s are
downloadable, high-quality music files (not to be confused with www.MP3.com, one Web
site from which these files can be downloaded. Initially,
www.MP3.com approached the major record labels, looking to enter
into partnerships to legally provide music across the
In June, record labels reached an agreement
with www.MP3.com, allowing the dotcom to stay in business in
exchange for a one-time payment to the record companies of between
$75 million and $100 million.
Napster, another music-download site, claims it
merely provides the downloading technology, and those who go to the
site are the ones guilty of copyright infringement. Napster and
other similar sites place warnings of copyright violation on their
Web pages. In May, the rock group Metallica issued a
multimillion-dollar writ against Napster and produced a list of
more than 300,000 e-mail addresses to which the group’s music was
illegally downloaded. Napster’s legal battles are far from over: A
judge recently ordered the company to remove links to copyrighted
material. Napster has appealed the decision.
The bottom line? For now, at least, there’s no
such thing as a free tune.
FREE FOR ALL
There is a reason
supermarkets and malls play Muzak: It has been cleared of copyright
liability by a background music service. Of course, there are
rules, including caps on volume level. For details, go to www.muzak.com
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