Technology has consistently made our favorite music more mobile. Music streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify allow us to have our own soundtrack everywhere we go. Businesses are also taking advantage of streaming sites. By now we've all seen a bartender or a barista with their phone plugged into the sound system, setting the mood for the establishment.
But is this kosher, legally? Are there different rules for streaming Pandora at a business?
Terms of Soundtrack Service
Pandora's Terms of Service are explicit when it comes to using the service in a business: “Use of the Services in a business establishment requires a special license to a separate service,” and “ANY BUSINESS USE OF THE SERVICES NOT SPECIFICALLY PERMITTED IN THIS SECTION IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED AND MAY RESULT IN IMMEDIATE TERMINATION OF YOUR RIGHT TO USE THE SERVICES.” (Thanks for the all-caps, Pandora.)
Pandora licenses their business use service through DMX (not the rapper) and Mood Media. (Spotify has a similar requirement, and licenses commercial use through Spotify Business.) Even the NRA (National Restaurant Association) recommends you get a business license for Pandora, Spotify, or SiriusXM satellite radio if you're going to be bumping tunes in your business.
Just in case you're thinking, “Well I already have a premium account, and who's going to notice anyway,” you should know that artists, and the music licensing companies that have the rights to distribute their music, are notoriously aggressive when it comes to asserting their copyrights.
BMI especially has filed numerous lawsuits against bars and restaurants for playing background music without paying for a license. And Jay-Z sued a tea shop in Mobile, Alabama for playing songs without permission. Between the legal fees to fight such a lawsuit and the possible fines if you lose, ponying up the few extra dollars to get a business license for Pandora or Spotify seems like a bargain.
And if you'd like more legal assistance with a music licensing issue at your business, you can contact an experienced intellectual property attorney in your area.