The International Square Dance Magazine

Mike Seastrom

Is Your Event Properly Licensed

There appears to be some confusion about who is responsible for music licensing at dance events that are held.

Most of us are well aware that it is illegal to play copyrighted music in public without the author’s permission, which is a license. It would be impossible for each author to license songs individually, so organizations were formed to manage the licensing and collect and distribute the fees associated to the artist, the song writer, and to those who actually own the song. Anyone who performs or plays copyrighted material must have a license.

Over the past 50 years, licensing organizations like BMI and ASCAP, have turned their sights towards square dancing and square dance events. There was never an easy way for them to track down square dance clubs for licensing and enforcement, but then they discovered square dance publications, and that made it easy to find clubs.

Many years ago, BMI and ASCAP offered their standard deal to square dance clubs and associations; $22 per dance, payable on an annual basis, in advance. For many clubs, that would have been devastating. It would have been impractical and nearly impossible for clubs to individually negotiate for better terms. In addition, many new clubs would face an almost impossible upfront expense.

As an alternative, CALLERLAB and ROUNDALAB approached BMI and ASCAP on behalf of square dancing and round dancing, and arranged to cover these events by licensing their individual members. This arrangement was good for the activity because the negotiations undertaken by CALLER LAB and ROUNDALAB resulted in a much better price for the performance license. Although these negotiations took the cost of licensing off of the sponsoring organizations, the responsibility to make sure that the event is licensed still remains with clubs and to anyone that sponsors the event.

Please remember, this licensing problem was not initiated by CALLERLAB or ROUNDALAB. It began because these service organizations have the obligation to collect royalties on copyrighted music for their members. Federal law also supports these organizations in their efforts to collect these royalties.

To help protect your club or event from prosecution, CALLERLAB, ROUNDALAB, and other major organizations recommend that clubs add the following to contracts or agreements with their callers and cuers. “I certify that I will be licensed to perform copyrighted music at your club dance or event.”

If a club or an event sponsoring organization has a signed contract without this statement, CALLERLAB recommends that the club contact the caller as soon as possible to verify that they will be licensed at the time they call at the event. If the caller indicates that he or she will not be licensed, the club must take steps to protect itself by negotiating a release from the contract and booking another caller or cuer who will be licensed. The other alternative is to obtain a license directly from one of the service organizations like BMI or ASCAP to cover the dance. A club may contact CALLERLAB to determine if the caller is a member and is licensed.

BMI or any other service organization has representatives that can visit a dance event. If they determine that the caller and/or cuer is not licensed, the penalties for the club or sponsoring group can be as high as $20,000 dollars per copyrighted song performed or up to 10 years in federal prison for each violation. Since club officers are typically considered to be sponsors of a dance, they would be the ones usually named in the lawsuit. Legally, however, the caller or cuer can also be named in the lawsuit.

Hiring only callers and cuers who are licensed protects clubs and sponsoring organizations. Please check to make sure that your callers and cuers will be licensed at the time of your event.

This may seem like a small point and it’s easy to think that you will never be checked, but the penalties are enormous and it’s so easy to do the right thing and maintain the highest ethics possible in our dance activity.

*A big “Thank you” to Jerry Reed for the information in this article.

Fun set to music!