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Live Streaming Your Show: A 3 Step Copyright Guide

Live stream your music with copyright compliance

Good news: the biggest social media platforms make it easier to live stream. Follow this step-by-step process to bring your music to the world -- and stay copyright compliant.

With the quarantine of 2020, live streaming has skyrocketed in the singing community. Virtual choirs, shared a cappella collaborations, webinars, and live concerts on various platforms are a regular part of our daily lives. Like every use of intellectual property, the music you perform in a live stream performance is subject to copyright protection that ensures the creators receive credit and compensation for their work.

The good news is that some of the most well-known platforms - YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok - have agreements with a few of the largest copyright agencies. This agreement covers half (one of two) of the copyright-licenses required for live stream copyright compliance. However, before live streaming your performance on these popular platforms, there are copyright “best practices” you must consider to ensure your ensemble is compliant with current licensing regulations.

We’ve created a step-by-step guide to help make your live stream event copyright compliant!

DISCLAIMER: This blog is guidance for US-based performers. Canadian performers should contact their country's copyright societies for assistance and guidance for their territory. More info is available here.

Performers residing outside of North America should contact the copyright society(ies) in their respective countries for guidance and direction regarding live streaming and other copyright-related issues.

What is live streaming? What copyright licenses are required to live stream?

Live streaming is the broadcasting of live video to an audience over the internet. Artists also have the option to publish pre-recorded video as “live” content.

Live streaming requires two permissions under copyright law before your broadcast: the public performance right and the synchronization right.

How to live stream: A step-by-step process

Step 1: Determine the copyright holders in your selected songs.

After you've selected the songs you will sing during your live stream performance, you'll need to determine who holds the copyright information for each selected song.

  • Sheet Music: If you own sheet music of the arrangements you plan to sing in your live stream event, copyright holder information is typically located at the bottom of the first page of your sheet music.
  • Performing Rights Organization Search: Most copyrighted songs are registered at one of the following U.S. performing rights organizations:

Copyright holder contact information can be found by searching by song and/or composer through each site’s repertory catalog.

Step 2: Select your live stream platform

In Step 1 you chose the songs for your live stream event and determined the copyright holder(s) for each song. With this knowledge you can move on to Step 2, where you will choose the live stream platform for your event.

Are you planning on live streaming on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok and are all of your songs registered at ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and/or Global Music Rights?

If you answered yes: Great! For the public performance license, you’re already covered under YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok’s agreements with ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Global Music Rights. You do not have to secure public performance rights directly.

If you answered no: This means you will have to secure public performance permission for the song(s) with their specific copyright holders. If this is not possible you should remove this song from your event or select another song that is registered with ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and/or Global Music Rights or pick another live stream platform. As new platforms are constantly evolving, a listing of currently recommended platforms available can be found through an internet search, using a key phrase such as “best live stream companies."

But you're not done yet. There's still one more license that needs to be secured.

What is a public performance license?

A public performance license (also known as public performance rights, performance rights, and performing rights) is an agreement between a music user and the owner of a copyrighted composition (song), that grants permission to play the song in public, online, or on the radio.

step 3: Secure a synchronization license for every song that will be performed in the live stream event.

Unfortunately there are no official US “clearinghouses” available to easily secure synchronization licenses; however, independent entities offering these services can be found by an internet search using key phrases such as “synchronization license services” or “synchronization clearance services.”

For the most optimum viewer experience, industry experts recommend that artists pre-record their show, secure synchronization licenses for the songs, mix the content with a video editing software, then live stream the edited version.

What is a synchronization license?

A synchronization license (also known as “synchronization rights,” “synch rights,” or and “sync rights”) is an agreement between a music user and a copyright holder that grants permission for a user to “sync” audio with video.

Additional considerations

It is strongly discouraged to use any pre-existing sound recordings in a live stream event. (An example of this would be including Louis Armstrong’s original recording of “What A Wonderful World” while performing choreography or transitions to another song within the performance.) Live streaming platforms have the technology to recognize pre-existing sound recordings; the live stream may (most likely, will) be taken down and/or the ensemble will be served a copyright infringement notice. It is difficult to secure permissions to use these types of pre-existing recordings, so it is considered best practice to avoid their use altogether.

Please be advised that any use of a copyrighted composition without formal permission is a violation of copyright law. When in doubt, ask permission!

DISCLAIMER:This article is for informational and educational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice and does not establish any kind of attorney-client relationship with the Barbershop Harmony Society (SPEBSQSA, Inc.) The Barbershop Harmony Society is not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information. You should consult with an attorney before you rely on the information provided in this article.

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