Hoteliers across the U.S. often receive notice from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), Global Music Rights (GMR), and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC), requesting that the hotelier pay licensing fees for televisions, public announcement music, or telephone hold music in the hotel. Oftentimes, the hoteliers are uncertain about whether these companies are legitimate, and hoteliers have questions about whether fees are rightfully due.
ASCAP, GMR, SESAC, and BMI are organizations representing music composers, authors, and publishers. These organizations either own or represent the owners of music rights. Under federal law, they may be able to legally demand compensation for a hotel’s broadcast of music in public spaces through TVs or through a music system.
By charging licensing fees, GMR, ASCAP, SESAC, and BMI grant a business such as a hotel permission to use licensed music in a public area.
General rule: Generally, federal law allows ASCAP, SESAC, GMR, and BMI to collect licensing fees from hotels for TVs and loudspeakers in public areas unless the hotel qualifies for an exception under that federal law. Note that even if the broadcast is video-only and the audio is muted, licensing may be still be required.
Exception where licensing may not be required: Federal law provides for an exception for licensing if certain conditions are met. Specifically, an exception to licensing will apply if the hotel property meets the following criteria:
- The hotel does not have more than one TV per room in any public room (such as the fitness center, lounge, bar, restaurant, etc.),
- The hotel does not have more than four cumulative TVs in all public areas,
- The hotel does not have a TV with a diagonal screen size greater than 55” in a public area, and
- The hotel does not have seven or more loudspeakers in a public area, or five or more loudspeakers in one room in a public area.
If the hotel property has any one of the above-noted conditions, then the property does not qualify for the exception to licensing. It is important to also note that TVs in guest rooms are not included with these factors, because guest rooms are private areas.
Guest Room TV Programming
ASCAP, SESAC, GMR, and BMI music licenses primarily apply to the public areas of the hotel property, rather than individual guest rooms. However, hoteliers should review any contract provisions with content providers for the particular programming licensing. A hotelier will want to ensure that the cable or satellite provider or music service provider to find out if the provider pays the licensing fees for your property. Be sure to mention that your TV or sound system is in a public area, and inquire about licensing for music played during TV and radio commercials.
If your hotel plays ambient music in public areas, such as through service like Muzak, you will want to ensure your agreement with the music provider includes all licensing costs. Typically, Muzak and other providers handle licensing issues.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact a THLA attorney: 512-474-2996