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Movie and Music Licenses Q&A

June 01, 2022 7037

U.S. copyright laws allow owners of original movies, television shows and music to collect license fees from individuals, organizations and other entities for public performances of the movies, television shows and music. A dental practice that shows recorded shows and movies or has music playing may need what is known as a “performance license.”

License fees are dependent on the size of the facility. A dental practice with more than one location must purchase a license for each location that plays recorded movies, shows or music. Nonprofit organizations also are required to pay license fees.

I purchased DVDs to show in my waiting room. I own the DVDs — why can’t I play them in my waiting room?

When you purchase or rent a DVD, you are licensed to view the movie at home with family or a small circle of friends, as long as you do not conduct any commercial activity in your home or seek reimbursement for rental fees or refreshments, etc. This permitted use does not include showing or displaying the movie in the waiting room of your dental office.

In order to show or display the movie at your office (a public place of business), you need to obtain a public performance license. Fees for these licenses are generally very small. The primary entities that handle such licenses include:

It is important to comply with the copyright law because infringement carries significant penalties. For example, if an infringement is considered “willful,” you could be subject to statutory damages as high as $150,000 for each infringed work. Moreover, even if the infringement is considered inadvertent, you could be subject to statutory damages ranging from $750 to $30,000 for each infringed work. You may also be subject to other costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party.

The MPLC now offers, in partnership with the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), an umbrella license for dentists to show movies and television programming in their practices. The license is available to ADA and AAPD members at a discounted rate. The annual license fee is $349 for members ($429 for nonmembers) per location per year and MPLC offers a discount for offices with multiple locations. Complete the application on the MPLC website.

Does it matter if my patients bring in their own DVDs to play in the waiting room?

Yes. This would still require a public performance license unless they bring their own personal players. Provide the means for the infringement (i.e., by providing the DVD player, video screen, etc., in the waiting room) and allow your patients to play their own DVDs. You may be liable for contributory infringement because you had the right and ability to monitor the infringing activity. If your patients wish to bring their portable DVD players or laptop computers for their own use, you are not contributing to infringement.

My patients watch DVDs while undergoing treatment — is this considered a “public performance”?

Yes. Because the dental operatory is part of a business, showing or displaying the movie would be considered a public performance for which there is no nonprofit exemption. Thus, for the reasons discussed earlier, you would be required to obtain a separate public performance license.

Do I need a license to stream movies and shows through a service, such as Netflix, in the waiting area?

Yes, you do need a license. When you agree to Netflix’s terms of service, you agree not to use the service for public performances. Other streaming services such as Amazon Prime and Google Play likely have similar terms. However, a patient who uses his or her own streaming-service account to watch a movie on his or her device probably can do so without the dental practice obtaining a performance license.

Are there limitations to having the television on in the practice?

If the television is set to show only network and basic cable programming, then a performance license is not necessary.

We play music over the office sound system — do we need a license to do this?

Yes. Under the Copyright Act, the definition of public performance includes any transmission of a performance or display of the work to the public or to a place open to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public are capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times. This would include, for example, playing music CDs over the office sound system.

 Primary entities that handle these types of licenses:

A dental practice that streams music over its sound system should have a business subscription to the music streaming service of its choice. The subscription fee includes the cost of licensing the music. If music CDs are played, then licensing must be arranged with some or all of these.

Performing rights societies license facilities to play all songs (audio only) in their respective catalogs for relatively small annual fees. The performing rights societies take care of apportioning the fees among the owners of the songs; you will not need to worry about the allocation. These societies cannot authorize the performance of the musical numbers from a musical play or revue in the sequence in which they were performed. This precludes playing the original cast recording of a musical. A good rule of thumb is to play no more than four consecutive songs from a show or album.  

Does playing the radio over the office sound system require a public performance license?

Maybe. Under The Copyright Act, there is an exemption for radio broadcasts if (1) the establishment in which the communication occurs has less than 2,000 gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose) or (2) the establishment in which the communication occurs has 2,000 or more gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose) and the audio performance is communicated over no more than six loudspeakers of which no more than four are located in any one room or adjoining outdoor space. This exemption does not apply to playing CDs.

Hence, if the physical layout of your office satisfies either the maximum 2,000-square-footage requirement or the maximum speaker/room requirement, you do not need a public performance license to play the radio over the office sound system. Otherwise, you must obtain a public performance license from one of the performing rights groups discussed above.

Music licensing fees are included in a business subscription to SiriusXM.

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