Can I play my own music at a venue without a public performance license?

November 18, 2013

Dear Music Lawyer,

If I have copyright on my original music, I am not signed with a label, and I retain all publishing and performance rights, can I play at any venue without the owner of the establishment fearing recourse from BMI, ASCAP, or any other performing rights organization (PRO)?


Dear Darryl,

Yes, if you retain 100% of the rights (including copyrights) in your musical compositions and you only play those compositions at the venue, then the performing rights organizations should not be able to maintain a claim against the owner of the establishment for violating the right of public performance. The reason is that the right to publicly perform a work belongs exclusively to the copyright holder (unless the copyright holder gives that right away).

From what you've described, you never assigned the public performance rights in your compositions to a third party so you should be free to publicly perform them and to authorize others (like the venue) to publicly perform them.

Note: If you also performed other people's songs -- i.e., covers -- then the venue owner might legitimately be harassed for your public performance of those songs.

—Amy E. Mitchell is maintained by experienced Austin music lawyer Amy E. Mitchell. Please feel free to ask any music law related questions. You will be notified by email when your question has been selected for response, and the response will be posted on this site.

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