BluesIn an age of iPods and streaming audio, it may seem like the options for pumping music into your restaurant or bar are virtually unlimited. But while everyone loves to hear their favorite tunes during a round of drinks or a dinner out with friends, you’ll find it a lot less enjoyable as a business owner if you wind up being slapped with a fine or a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, this is precisely what has happened to numerous restaurant and bar owners operating in areas in which U.S. copyright law is in effect. Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the dominant publishing rights organizations in the United States, file upwards of 400 copyright infringement lawsuits each year against food and drink establishments whom the organizations allege have failed to pay for the right to play their music in public spaces.

Serious consequences

BMI represents a number of top artists, from Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift to Michael Jackson, all of whom are likely to be heard in lively establishments frequented by tourists. ASCAP, meanwhile, represents Jay-Z, Beyonce, Katy Perry and a host of other big names. And while the publishing rights organizations offer annual subscriptions—BMI’s average restaurant subscriber pays around $650—that allow proprietors to play their music, many establishment owners attempt to flout the law, and get caught doing so.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a scenario that is not likely to appeal to those who operate food and drink establishments in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But as attorneys representing ASCAP and BMI have been quick to note, if you believe your establishment can fly under the radar and avoid penalties for playing music for which you haven’t paid the appropriate licensing fees, think again.

That being said, BMI and ASCAP are not likely to greet you with a lawsuit right off the bat. Rather, their approach has generally been to contact businesses that have violated copyright law by playing unlicensed music and ask them to subscribe or risk being taken to court. For business owners, there’s really no way around it, and it doesn’t matter whether the music is coming from a jukebox or even the radio—if it’s playing in your restaurant or bar, you need to be paying for it.

To avoid a run-in with the music publishers—and potentially save your business thousands of dollars—consult an experienced law firm that understands the complexities of copyright law. A skilled attorney will help you ensure your business is compliant, help you negotiate a long-term licensing deal and keep the music flowing from your speakers.

BoltNagi is a well-established and respected intellectual property law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.