Music in the Library

Q. Are we able to use music CDs in our collection to broadcast background sound that would distract patrons from complaining about other patrons' noises? Or do we need to pay for Music in the Library - Illustration of floating musical notationsatellite radio or commercially available piped in music to avoid copyright infringement? Are there other libraries that have tried background music?

A.  According to the Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code (Circular 92), the owner of the copyright retains public performance rights, unless these are specifically granted at the time of sale, or unless the work is being aired in conjunction with an educational activity; see § 106. Exclusive rights in copyrighted works and § 110. Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays.

It is important to remember that copyright covers both the intellectual property of the music itself—notation and lyrics--and the interpretation of that music as recorded in performance. Thus, a song that is in the public domain, such as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, may not be in the public domain in a recorded version because the performers have rights to their interpretation.

See Using Music in the Library: Copyright Issues, by Ann Hoey, Youth Services Consultant, New Hampshire State Library, which is her article that originally appeared in the October/November/December 2005 Granite State Libraries. Hoey diagrams the handful of situations in which music would be used in libraries, and discusses when specific permissions may be needed.

The Better Business Bureau has prepared a useful summary of the public performance rules, Music in the Marketplace, as they apply to places of business, explaining:

Three organizations license performance rights for most of the music copyright holders in the United States. They are: the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP); Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI); and SESAC, Inc.

ASCAP is a membership association of U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers of every kind of music - the oldest such organization. ASCAP protects the rights of its members by licensing and distributing royalties for the non-dramatic public performances of their copyrighted works. See ASCAP's Licensing Help General FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), which includes definitions of Common Music Licensing Terms, including Public Performance or Performance Rights:

A public performance is one that occurs "in a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered." A public performance also occurs when the performance is transmitted by means of any device or process (for example, via broadcast, telephone wire, or other means) to the public. In order to perform a copyrighted work publicly, the user must obtain performance rights from the copyright owner or his representative.

Contact ASCAP directly with any and all questions on purchasing the ASCAP public performance license, by completing the online form or calling 800-505-4052.

BMI is said to be the largest performing rights organization. See the BMI Licensing FAQ and the BMI Licensing Contact Form.

SESAC speaks of having the fastest growing musical repertory. See the SESAC Frequently Asked Questions: General Licensing and the SESAC Which License Do You Need?

For further assistance, see these copyright resources.

Finally, the topic was discussed on PubLib with most respondents weighing in against adding music. Reasons offered included diversity in musical tastes and interference with the ability of some hearing-impaired visitors (or staff) to hear. General “white noise” was offered as an alternative.