Suppose you own a bookstore or a cafe, or maybe you’re a dentist or you own a hair salon. You probably play music in your shop, cafe or clinic. Are you infringing copyright when you play that music? Are artists collecting royalties for the music you play? And if you want to make sure you’re on the right side of the law, what are your options?
Canadian Copyright law
You can read the Copyright Act if you’re interested — it’s not that bad a read, really. But basically what you need to understand is that the artist who wrote a song has exclusive rights to reproduce and perform that song. And the people who recorded it also have exclusive rights in the recording itself; only the recording company can reproduce the recording (which is subtly different from reproducing the song). Any time you take out a guitar and play a song, you’re performing that song. And if you play a CD or plug an iPod into your sound system and play Abba’s Super Trouper on repeat (something my kids love doing), you’re performing the sound recording.Now, playing the song in private is not infringement, and there is even a special exemption in Canada that allows us to make copies of sound recordings for our own private use under certain circumstances. But if you are playing songs in your shop, cafe or clinic, or anywhere else where the public can hear it, then you are infringing the copyright in that recording unless you have permission from the artist.
You can pay for permission
One way to get permission from the artist is to buy a licence from SOCAN, the collective society that represents musicians in Canada. It’s not outrageously expensive either: less than 12 cents per square foot, so it will cost about $230 to buy a licence to play commercial music in your 2000 square foot operation.
Or you can get permission for free!
It turns out there are a lot of artists out there who first and foremost want their music to be heard, and they have chosen to give broad permission to anybody and everybody to use their songs and recordings. You generally won’t find these artists on commercial radio, or even at most music stores. After all, many of them operate on small budgets and distribute their music online instead of paying to press discs.And to make sure you know that you have their permission, many of these artists use a much more permissive, standard form licence that they get from Creative Commons. There are a range of Creative Commons licences, some of which are extremely permissive: if a song is under the CC-BY licence, you can copy, perform, transmit and even adapt and remix the work, as long as you give the original artist credit. Some CC licences are much more restrictive: if a song is under the CC-BY-NC-ND licence, you can copy, perform and transmit the work, but you can’t change it at all (the ND means No Derivatives) and you can’t use it for commercial purposes (the NC means Non Commercial). So CC licensed music is a great source of free music to play to your customers or clients, but you have two challenges: finding CC licensed music, and making sure the music you pick is under a licence that allows commercial use. There are a growing number of places to find CC licensed music online, but one of the best is Jamendo. It has a great selection of CC licensed music from around the world in all different styles, very well organized and searchable. To find the music under Creative Commons licences, click the Music tab on Jamendo and then the Creative Commons link in the orange bar under the tabs. On the right of the page, you can search by tags, but if you leave the tags field blank you can just check the box that says “allow commercial use”, and you’ll get all of the music on Jamendo that is under CC licences that allow commercial use — or just click here to go straight to those search results! You can also limit the results by country — here are the Canadian albums that you can play to your customers for free.
Podcasts and free music
Podcasts are a bit of a special case since as a podcaster you are not only performing recordings but also transmitting them to the public, and making them available for people to download. If you’re a podcaster and you’re interested in using free music or other content, check out the Podcasting Legal Guide for Canada.
There are different ways to support musicians. SOCAN distributes royalties to artists from licensed performances and album sales. If you like an artist who uses CC licences and you want to support them, you can usually choose to pay for their music as well. For instance, you’ll find the latest album by Brad Sucks on Jamendo, but you can also buy it at his website. Or, if you’re into remixing music, you can download the source master recordings of each track, have your way with it (so to speak), and upload it to ccMixter.
Are you an artist who uses Creative Commons licences for your music? Do you run a cafe or shop or someplace else that plays music to your customers or clients? If you have a success story about using Free music, I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment!