What is a Performing Rights Organization (PRO)?

What is a Performing Rights Organization (PRO)?
A Performing Rights Organization (PRO) represents the copyrighted musical works of songwriters, composers, and music publishers. A PRO provides businesses using music the ability to obtain a license granting blanket authorization to use the music it represents in exchange for license fees. The PRO then distributes those fees as royalties to its affiliated songwriters, composers, and music publishers. The business benefits from a consolidated or clearinghouse approach to fulfilling their obligation under US Copyright Law to obtain prior authorization from every copyright owner of every song that may be publicly performed at their business. The copyright owner (songwriter, composer, or music publisher), benefits by having the PRO ensure that businesses are in compliance and have the proper authorization to publicly perform the songs they have created.

Is Every Performing Rights Organization the same?
They may operate with the same purpose, but who and what they represent differs making each unique.  The United States Copyright Law has historically identified 3 Performing Rights Organizations (PROs): SESAC, ASCAP and BMI by name in Section 101 of the Copyright Law.

A Performing Rights Organization represents a group of members or affiliates; songwriters, composers and music publishers.  Each organization represents different affiliates and catalogs of music – covering almost all of the millions of songs currently copyright protected. While obtaining a license with SESAC is an invaluable step toward full compliance with the law, licenses with ASCAP, BMI and potentially other emerging Performing Rights Organizations may be required. Most businesses obtain blanket authorization via performance licenses with all PROs.

While it may seem confusing having to obtain multiple licenses, it’s important to note that even with a few different Performing Rights Organizations in the marketplace, it is much more convenient than obtaining prior authorization directly from every individual copyright owner.

What if my business is using music without a license?
You could be violating federal law and could be held liable for copyright infringement which carries some steep penalties. Above we address what a Performing Rights Organization is and what responsibilities a business owner has regarding music licensing and fulfilling the obligation to obtain permission prior to the use of copyrighted music. Penalties for committing copyright infringement can range from $750 to $150,000 for each unlicensed song performed.  The easiest way to avoid this is to obtain all appropriate prior authorization.  Get licensed! If you don’t already have your SESAC Performance License to get started, you can obtain a license online today at SESAC: Get a License, or schedule a consultation with a SESAC representative.


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