Community Association Summer Events: Licensing Your Music and Movie Use

The first day of Spring and the recent sunshine and warm temperatures may have prompted you to start thinking about your Association’s Summer event calendar. If your Association’s list of events includes outdoor movie nights, concerts, or other performances, the Association may need to pay licensing fees. United States copyright laws protect composers, lyricists, music publishers, and movie producers and distributors, among others. Community associations that play music in recreational facilities, at festivals or at other events likely need to obtain the appropriate licenses to use the music. With few exceptions, showing movies also requires licensing. 

Failure to obtain licensing can result in hefty fines for the offending party. The fines can range from $750 for a single incident to $150,000, plus other penalties. The federal courts have held owners of establishments, which could include community associations, vicariously liable for copyright infringing acts of their independent contractors. Associations should not rely on vendors to obtain the necessary licensing for an event that features live music or film. One Vail nightclub currently faces litigation initiated by Van Halen Music Company and members of the band Led Zeppelin.  The Vail Daily provides more details about the lawsuit.

The steep penalties, in comparison to the more modest licensing fees, weigh in favor of obtaining the proper licenses. Three main organizations provide licensing for music rights: American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), and SESAC. The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation handles licenses for movies. Each of these organizations offers umbrella licenses; however, the terms of the form umbrella licenses may not adequately protect your Association, depending on the structure of the events themselves. If your Association’s plans include movies and music, do not let the licensing requirements spoil your Summer fun. Contact our office for further assistance with acquiring the licenses that your Association needs. 

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