What You Need to Know About Licensing Music for Virtual Events

Black man playing the saxophone in front of a computer

Photo Credit: iStock/Vladimir Melnik

The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused countless event cancellations and shifted much of the workforce from being at the office to working from home. While where and how we work may have changed, organizations are adapting and hosting their events online.

Although the change from in-person to virtual events has moved our focus to new types of venues, the music licensing landscape has stayed the same. Whether you’re hosting an online concert or member meeting, you’ll need to ensure that your event has the necessary music licenses for the music you want to play.

Licenses You’ll Need

When it comes to virtual events, you’ll need to obtain licenses for the sound recording, underlying musical composition, and public performance of the sound recording and underlying musical composition. Many commercial live streaming platforms already hold the types of licenses you need, however not all live streaming platforms do. It is just as important to obtain these licenses if you are holding your virtual event from your own website or meeting platform.

Synchronization (Sync) License

synchronization (sync) license gives you permission to use audio along with video in an audio-visual work. You’ll need a sync license if you share any form of video, even through a video call, while playing music.

You must obtain a sync license from the copyright owner of the musical composition, who is usually the songwriter or music publisher. The Find a Copyright Owner page on our website may help you to identify or locate a particular copyright owner or creator in order to license their copyrighted works.

Master Use License

master use license gives you the right to use the sound recording made popular by the artist. Master use licenses are usually available from the record label. A record label’s licensing department or business and legal affairs department is usually the right contact for obtaining a master use license.

Public Performance License

A public performance license grants permission to play a song in public, whether to a live or online audience. In the United States, a public performance license is needed to play a sound recording during a virtual event.

You must also obtain a public performance license for the underlying musical composition. For music, a public performance occurs when music is played outside a normal circle of friends and family.

You can obtain public performance licenses for the musical composition through performance rights agencies ASCAPBMISESAC, and GMR. Licenses for the sound recording can be obtained from the record label.

Work with a Lawyer

Licensing music for virtual events can seem like a tricky process. A lawyer can help you manage decision-making around licensing for your virtual event and help you obtain the necessary licenses. Working with a lawyer can also be extremely helpful as statutory damages for not properly licensing music can be as high as $30,000 per infringed work, even increasing to $150,000 per infringed work if the infringement is found to be willful.

Visit Find a Copyright Attorney to learn about copyright attorneys across the country. As well, our Creator Assistance Directory lists organizations that can help you with your legal needs for a pro bono or reduced fee.

Looking to learn more about licensing music? Check out the Copyright Transfers section of Copyright Law Explained.

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