Voices of a People's History
Voices of a People's History


General Guidelines on Music Licensing

In the United States, music is the most licensed and regulated of all the artistic works protected by copyright. Nearly all music performances in public require permission. As SESAC points out:

“In order to comply with the U.S. copyright law, any establishment that plays copyrighted music is legally required to secure permission to use copyrighted music, whether in a live performance or by mechanical means. A music user can do this by securing licenses from the three performing rights organizations recognized by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.”

If you want to play a copyrighted song as part of a public performance (for example, between scenes or as part of a scene), you need to contact the composer’s and lyricist’s publisher for permission. All songs are registered with one of the three U.S. performing rights societies: ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, and you can search their online databases for the publisher information (see below for their contact information). Please note that obtaining this kind of permission can be a lengthy process, and the publisher does have the right to refuse this type of use.
If you want to play music before or after a public performance, the venue needs to have performing rights licenses obtained directly from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Check with your venue to see if they already have these licenses in place. If not, you can find more information on how to secure these licenses at their websites, listed below.


All music is protected by copyright except for music that is in the Public Domain.
For more information on Public Domain music, click here.