Playing Music in Bars and Restaurants- Cautions When Allowing Broadcast Stations to Play in Retail Outlets

Recently in the news, a bar was forced to stop playing live music because of a lawsuit filed by BMI, charging them with not paying royalties for the use of its music. Because of the popularity of these types of entertainment areas nowadays, it is right to talk about the cautions involved in playing music in bars and restaurants. It is worth reminding retail outlets, as well as bars and restaurants, to pay music royalties to BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, even GMR when they use their music in their bars and restaurants. They don’t need to pay if the situation fits them to the particular exceptions where they get away with the payment. 

For small businesses, employees are allowed to use a device to play music at home. They can have their audio devices for personal entertainment. The exceptions are different when it comes to larger businesses. They can be exempted if they meet specific rules. 

The exceptions are based on two factors. The first one is the physical size of the bar, restaurant, or retail store and the second one is the number of broadcast receivers it uses. These exceptions are only applicable when the business uses an FCC-licensed TV station or radio, given that the originator of the programming paid the right fees. If the industry enjoys this exception, it cannot charge an entrance fee. Moreover, the business should fall into one of these categories:

  1. The size of the physical store, bar, or restaurant should be less than 2,000 gross square feet, or for foodservice and drinking establishments, it should be less than 3750 gross square feet. The parking area is excluded in the measurement of the total size. Also, the parking area should be used exclusively for parking and not become a patio or part of the bar during beautiful weather. 
  2. If in case the business doesn’t fit the set square footage mentioned above, then it should follow these rules:
  3. The business should only play the radio and no live music. The total number of speakers used should be no more than six, and no more than four of those can be used in one room or adjoining rooms or outdoor space. 
  4. If the bar, restaurant, or retail store use a TV, it can’t use more than 4. The size of the TV should not be bigger than 55 inches, and there should not be more than one in one room. The same rules apply for the number of speakers providing audio for the TV. There should not be more than six speakers in total and no more than four in one room. 

These exceptions are not only for consumer-type radios, but the business venue should only play a licensed radio or TV stations by FCC. It can’t use an iTunes library, or CDs, and other streaming devices. In any case that the business plays live music, or used any of the above-mentioned services, they should get a public performance license.