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Playing the radio? You could be facing a big fine.

Playing the radio? You could be facing a big fine.

Who hasn't walked into a restaurant or gift store and not heard their favorite songs? Humming along, you feel upbeat and happy. Some people even believe that certain music can induce more purchases and thus more income for their business. And even if it didn't, can you imagine the boredom that would set in if an employee didn't have some tunes to sing along with?

But what happens when a business plays their favorite set list and then finds out they are skirting the law? Simply by playing the radio, you ask? How can I be held liable for playing the radio?

A small business finds out how

Bert and Lynne Basignani run a small vineyard. They know that whether they have a live performer or are streaming their favorite music, under copyright law, they are liable to the artists whose music they use. Unless their live artists perform only their own compositions, the Basignanis, and other small business owners, run a financial risk each time a performer plays a cover.

What can they do?

Copyright law is not generally the purview of most business owners. While the Basginani's agree that an artist should be compensated for their work, the parameters are not always clear: Who exactly licenses the music and whom, exactly, do they pay?

The majority of music copyrights are held by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. You've seen their acronym, ASCAP, on virtually every CD or album you have ever purchased. So do you just send a check off to ASCAP and hope that keeps your business in check as well?

The smartest, and safest, thing you can do is to consult with an attorney who can help you negotiate a license. While it may seem costly to hire an attorney, the cost of a lawsuit for copyright infringement can include damages up to $150,000 per incident.

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