Music and movement go hand-in-hand. Walk into any health club or fitness center, and there will be music playing. Despite being a common thread among club environments, it’s not a topic that typically garners the attention of club operators. In a club setting, following the law is paramount when choosing which music to play; as on-demand fitness streaming company Peloton discovered earlier this year when they were sued for $150 million for allegedly violating music copyright law. Take the time to learn the basics of music copyright law so you can prevent legal consequences for your club.

Who Owns Music

It takes a team of people to create any one song, so ownership typically belongs to more than one individual. There are writers, recorders, producers, background singers and more. These people are often employed or under agreement with a record label or publisher. Under U.S. Copyright Law, composers have a right to be paid and compensated for their work. This means that every time the song is played, there should be compensation in some form.

How to Legally Play Music

If a song has multiple songwriters and each is represented by a different publisher, a club owner would need to obtain sync rights from every publisher with copyright ownership. Fortunately, a more straightforward process exists. A club operator can pay music licensing fees to performing rights organizations (PROs), which combine the works of publishers and songwriters. This simplifies the process, allowing businesses to negotiate with just the PRO to obtain a public performance license (instead of each individual publisher).

Common PROs include ASCAP and BMI. Keep in mind that paying one PRO only permits playing music within that organization. For example, if a club pays ASCAP they can’t play a song licensed by BMI.

Determining Music’s Worth

Music helps set the tone in a club. It can help fuel that extra mile or that extra rep. It can also cost a lot of money. A public performance license comes at a cost, and for many clubs, the cost is not worth the investment. The only guaranteed way to save money on music copyright is to not play music at all. For many clubs, that may not seem realistic. With the popularity of personal music players and increased number of group fitness-specific albums, club-wide music may no longer be a priority.