Career & Money

Here's Why You Can’t Just Download & Play Music in Your Store

Two words: music copyright

Apps and streaming sites make it easier for just about anyone to download music. But what many people don’t know is that it doesn’t give us permission to play it anywhere or treat it as a free commodity. Music is a form of intellectual property and it’s under the protection of local music copyright laws, as stated in the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines (see Republic Act No. 8293).

Sure, music plays a big role in setting the mood for your business and the right playlist can keep those customers coming back. But you can’t just download, say,  Taylor Swift’s Lover and blast it from your store’s speakers. It seems harmless, however, doing so is still considered “for commercial use.” So think before you hit play; you might just be in violation of music copyright laws, especially if you're caught playing licensed music from illegal sources. 

And as a business owner, it’s important to know the basics of music copyright in the Philippines, what’s legal and what isn’t, and what you can do.

What is music copyright law and why is it important?

Any artistic creation—including music—and its rights are owned by the original creator and are covered by the Intellectual Property Code. The music copyright act protects the creator of the work from any possible exploitation by third parties, unless permission was given by the original creator. This same set of rules applies to individual songs, regardless of the popularity of the artist. Unless you personally know these artists or music creators and are able to facilitate acquiring the license directly from them, you have to go through the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers or FILSCAP—the official Performing Rights Organization (PRO) in the Philippines. They handle the license applications of local and international music for all types of commercial use.

FILSCAP also happens to be a member of the Paris-based International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers or CISAC, an umbrella corporation of all composer societies around the world. This means FILSCAP is recognized by the international community as the sole and official music copyright society in the Philippines and adheres to the strict rules, regulations and statutes of CISAC.

But wait, how about playing music from popular streaming platforms such as Spotify or Apple Music?

Sorry, but no. According to Spotify and Apple's terms of service, their extensive library is only for personal and non-commercial use, since these are what you call a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) platforms. You could, however, avail the services of Business-to-Business (B2B) music platforms such as the Spotify-affiliated Soundtrack Your Brand, Mood Media or PlayNetwork to name a few. These B2B platforms have their own arrangements with local PROs, which simplifies the process for business owners who want to stream licensed music in their stores. So yes, if you have a B2B account and Lover is covered by the PROs, you can put it on repeat.

Another popular and perhaps the most accessible source of music is YouTube. Although it's first and foremost a video-streaming platform, people still use it to play music. Unlike Spotify and Apple Music where content is directly uploaded by the music publishers, just about anyone can create a YouTube profile and upload licensed music to it. Unfortunately, playing music from unofficial YouTube channels for commercial use is still considered illegal.

YouTube's Terms of Service (ToS) strictly states that any uploaded content without official permission from the copyright holder is in violation of its user agreement, which specifically forbids them from “transmitting, broadcasting or displaying” any content that is licensed by another party. YouTube is no different from radio and TV, which are also subject to the same restrictions and regulations of local copyright laws.

So what can I do?

If you’re not ready to commit to a B2B account just yet, there are music platforms that host royalty-free music: Soundcloud and Bandcamp. Royalty-free music is free for commercial use and is mostly excluded from the vast repertoire that's covered by the PROs. But take note that some of these tracks have audio-watermarks, which can only be removed if you buy the individual song or apply for a subscription. Also make sure to read up on the sites' music copyright disclaimer and terms of use before playing any of their songs.

Meanwhile, your local radio can also be played in a public and commercial setting as long as you don't exceed FILSCAP's requirements for a particular type of business. Each PRO has its own unique set of rules and regulations based on local IP laws, but most of these are standardized across all CISAC members. Most of the songs played on local FM radio are foreign (mostly from the US) music, so FILSCAP has to enforce the rules of American PROs, which states that a restaurant, for example, has to pay for a license fee if the establishment is bigger than 3,750 square feet. A more detailed list of these requirements can be accessed on FILSCAP's website.

So, regardless of business size, you still have to play it right and pay for necessary license fees. Like the products or services you're selling, good quality music also costs blood, sweat and tears—and a lotta money—to produce and distribute. It's only fair to pay the artist involved through licenses when you use their music for commercial purposes.

Learn more about the legalities of setting up and running a business by signing up to Globe myBusiness.

Art Alex Lara

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