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)?
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