Could Your Business Be Sued for $150k?

Updated: Oct 28, 2021


About the author:

Codie Henry is a former stylist based in Arizona and the Communications Director of The Sovereign Stylist. Having finished his bachelor's degree in public relations, he is working towards starting law school in 2021 for criminal defense. Codie’s blogs are typically focused on legal issues, marketing, and public relations topics. Codie believes that knowledge and language is the strongest weapon one can wield and that people always strive to be life-long learners.


In a world where digital media is at our fingertips, have we ever stopped to ask ourselves, "Are we digital pirates?"
Carrier Bradnshaw in 'Sex and the City'

Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, and Pandora are a few platforms that allow for streaming and/or purchasing music. Did you know that you are committing copyright infringement by using them to play music in your business? Most don't.

"Why," you ask?

Well, the simple answer is licensing. Generally, the streaming platforms grant you a personal license for your favorite music. Each platform lays this, unfortunate, detail in the 10-page Terms of Service. You don't read it most likely but lawyers do. The issue at hand is that businesses are required to have a Public Performance License to play music for their guests.


The Terms of Use for: Apple, Spotify, and Pandora

"But what if I buy a song on iTunes?"

Well, that doesn't work either. Buying a song does not give you ownership of it. It just gives you a personal use license.

The vast majority of users, myself included, think nothing of plugging their phone in to listen to their favorite beats while doing hair. It does not occur to many that they could be sued for this behavior. That's the issue. Have you ever read the Copyright Law of the United States? Hell no. One would need a good 5 pots of coffee and a bottle of vodka - and that's just for the preface.

"I can't be the only one though, right?" Not at all. A study conducted by Nielsen Music estimated that 83% of businesses are doing the same thing. The issue is when you are caught. In 2017, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers filed 10 separate copyright infringement actions against bars and restaurants across the US.

The lawsuits typically settle out of court, but one New Jersey restaurant owner decided to fight the claim in court... He lost and was ordered to pay Broadcast Music Inc. $24,000 or $6,000 for each of the four songs that played in May of 2015. The four songs, according to USA Today, were Rolling Stones' Brown Sugar, Elton John's Bennie and the Jets + Your Song, and Amy Winehouse's Your Known I'm No Good.

According to Cloud Cover Music, the New Jersey owner lucked out as he was not ordered to pay the maximum penalty, "copyright infringement can be held liable for damages of up to $150,000 per song played."


"Come on, Codie, there must be exceptions to the law, right?"

Actually, there are two.


According to Cloud Cover Music:


"These two types of exempt businesses are:

  • Food service or drinking establishments (a restaurant, inn, bar, tavern, or any other similar place of business in which the public is being served food or drink) with a.) less than 3750 gross square feet of space, or b.) with 3750 gross square feet of space or more, and less than 6 loudspeakers (no more than 4 loudspeakers per room) and less than 4 televisions (1 per room) with a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches.

  • Other establishments (e.g. a retail store, office, etc.) with a.) less than 2000 gross square feet of space, or b.)b.) with 2000 or more gross square feet of space and satisfies the same loudspeaker and television set requirements as for food service or drinking establishments (see above)."

Of course, with the constant changes in the law, it always best to seek professional legal advice from an attorney.


What are the legal alternatives for playing music in your business?

Well, there are quite a few. Here