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Do DJs need a license for public gigs?

On Behalf of | Sep 13, 2023 | Entertainment Law |

When aspiring disc jockeys (DJs) transition from playing in the comfort of their bedroom or basement to booking gigs in public venues, they must first settle licensing concerns before stirring up any party scene.

In most cases, DJs invest their resources by buying their own equipment and music through their choice of software or virtual music stores. However, purchasing it does not necessarily make the music their property. Instead, they have acquired the right to use it.

But when they play it in public settings – bars, clubs, music festivals or any place with a large gathering of people – licensing is a mandatory requirement to avoid copyright infringement or the unauthorized use of an artist’s work without permission.

How to secure a DJ license

DJs invited to spin in public must first check if the venue has secured a public performance license, which permits them to play any song or beat, per the U.S. Copyright Law.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the Broadcast Music, Inc., and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers are three primary performance rights organizations (PROs) granting this license nationwide. PROs often send staff to businesses or establishments to monitor the music. Doing so ensures that the artists behind the music played by DJs receive proper compensation through royalties.

With the advent of digital streaming, DJs also now have new means to share and broadcast their mixes. Music mixes are parts pieced together, often with additional effects or transitions, to sound differently than the original version.

Although originally edited, streaming mixes on the internet means distributing them in a public space. Unless the online platform has streaming licenses with PROs, DJs must secure a digital license on their own.

Some DJs also claim “fair use,” or the right to use or transform a limited copyrighted material without permission. But it remains to be a heated point of contention. Courts exercise broad discretion in considering relevant factors, such as the copyrighted material’s nature or how significant the usage was.

Why a DJ license matters

The DJ industry continues to be an evolving territory. Without the appropriate license, DJs risk violating copyright laws that can damage their reputation or even end their careers. DJs can focus on their craft by entrusting the legal aspect of their work with an experienced Atlanta counsel.