Can I play music during my sessions?
We wish this could be a simple “yes” or “no” answer, but there are a lot of legal issues with this and we want you to be safe, so bear with us.
The rules for music licensing, copyright, and use can get pretty complicated, but most of the time, it’s pretty straightforward: unless you buy a license, you can’t use the music for anything beyond personal use. This means that when you stream songs on Spotify, or if you buy an album on iTunes (or CD or vinyl), you’re free to play those songs in private (e.g., in your car or at a get-together you’re hosting), but, legally, you can’t blast those tunes in a park during a soccer match or in a studio during a group yoga session. You also can’t use those songs in fitness classes or in videos that you upload. This is especially (or at least) true if you do so while representing a business entity. If you and some friends are getting together to do yoga on the beach, you’re fine; but if people are paying for a beach yoga class with you, that’s no longer okay. If you’re playing tunes during a game of pickup basketball, you’re probably fine; but if you’re playing those same tunes during a game of a rec league that you coach, you’re no longer fine. The reason you’ll hear popular hits in stores and fitness establishments is because those companies have bought public performance licenses that allow them to play that music. But even then, they’re limited to playing the music strictly within the walls of their buildings.
A public performance license grants you, as a business entity, the permission to play the song in public, on the radio, or, in your case, for members during online instruction. If there are songs that you want to use, you will need to purchase a performance license for their use. This can be done by contacting the appropriate performing rights organization (BMI, SESAC, or ASCAP); however, this can be expensive. Alternatively, you could opt to use royalty-free or direct-licensed music (see below), which will likely cost less and may give you more usage options.
So, what can you do?
- You can opt for no music. This might help your members hear you better anyway.
- You can share a playlist with your members and have them play it for themselves during the session, because then they’re using it for their personal use and not violating the license. We recommend that each one of you play it through earbuds so that the other person can’t hear and so that the music isn’t feeding back into the microphone and cluttering the audio on your stream.
- You can use music that’s in the public domain. Rules for this will vary by country. In the U.S., music enters the public domain after 95 years, meaning that anything made during or before 1924 is in the public domain as of January 2020. However, music is separately copyrighted for both its composition (the music and lyrics) and its recording (the artist’s performance of it). This means that, even if a song is in the public domain, a particular recording of it may not be. (For example, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 was composed in 1893, so it is part of the U.S. public domain; however, the Berlin Philharmonic’s 2019 recording of that symphony is not in the public domain and is still protected by copyright law.) Even certain open-source music, such as what is available via the Creative Commons, has certain restrictions, such as requiring attribution. So you could use this music (though carefully check the other requirements of each song’s license) as long as you announce each song or give your member a list of all the songs you use in the session.
- Use royalty-free or direct-license music. Details will vary based on the company, on how you acquire the songs (whether you download as part of a subscription or you buy songs individually), and on the level of your subscription/license, so read the terms and agreements carefully. Typically, for as long as your subscription is active or if you buy a song and its license, you’ll usually get synchronization rights (i.e., the right to synchronize the music to something visual, such as a YouTube video); it’s less common to get public performance rights. For subscription-based services, once your subscription is ended, you will typically no longer be able to publicly perform their songs or use them in new videos, but the videos you already created with their music will likely still be covered.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is for instructional purposes only and does not constitute legal advice and should not be substituted for obtaining advice from a law attorney.