Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio September
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
THE LATEST ON MUSIC LICENSING
Online downloads and other abuses strike sour notes for
In the early ’90s, the music industry cracked down on meeting
professionals for allowing the public performance of copyrighted
music without obtaining a license and paying royalties.
Today, we face the relatively new issue of the rampant
copyright-free “sharing” of music on the Internet, bringing with it
new wrinkles in the way music can be used in public.
The Recording Industry Association of America recently filed suit
against 18 retail businesses for allegedly reselling CDs that had
been taken off of the Internet or otherwise copied without
permission from or payment of royalties to the copyright holder.
That’s because the copyright holder is protected by a “bundle of
rights.” This means, in addition to the public performance right,
the holder has the right to license the reproduction or copy of his
or her copyrighted material in various formats, including CDs, as
well as the rights to distribute, display and control others’ use
of the work in derivative fashions.
Additionally, those who have been downloading music off the
Internet are being challenged and will face possible prosecution in
both civil and criminal cases for their appropriation of
copyrighted materials without permission.
It has been a long time since any serious legal actions concerning
music licensing have been brought to bear upon meeting
professionals. That does not mean, however, that planners should
become cavalier in their responsibilities under the copyright laws
of the United States.
One law that often is misunderstood is the incorporation of
copyrighted music into another format. For example, a planner
decides to videotape various activities that take place during the
course of an event, several of which feature music. During the
final-night banquet, the group is shown the edited video, which
includes the same music played while filming occurred.
While most meeting professionals obtain a music license for
public performances at an event, does the license cover the right
to include the same music in a tape? The answer is a resounding
To comply with the law, planners must obtain a “sync license”
from the song’s publisher, rather than from the American Society of
Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc.
(BMI) or the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers
(SESAC), the three major agencies that oversee the rights to public
performances of a song.
A sync license covers the “synchronization” or the mechanical
right to manufacture and distribute a record, CD or tape for a
specific copyrighted piece of music.
While the answer to the legality of transferring copyright music
to other formats might seem cut-and-dried, other problems
TRADE SHOW TUNES
Trade shows organizers and promoters comprise another group that
needs to be aware of music licensing laws.
These industry professionals can be held “vicariously liable” if
their exhibitors use music without a license, in the same way
commercial landlords of malls and stores are held vicariously
liable for tenants who play music in their stores without first
obtaining licenses or paying royalties. Exhibitors should be made
aware of the legal implications.
Music licensing is a professional and legal requirement. It has
always been our advice to clients that they need to be very careful
anytime they suspect they might be bending or outright breaking the
Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago and
Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which
specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal
questions can be e-mailed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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