Did you know that playing music in a yoga class—whether it’s a studio or in your neighborhood park—constitutes a public performance? All public performances of a song require permission from the copyright owner, which is typically acquired by paying music licensing fees to a Performing Rights Organization (PRO).
Copyright Infringement is Serious Business
Music licensing is a crucial topic for the yoga community and is not to be taken lightly. We have heard from numerous members who have been contacted by licensing organizations and are now looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. It’s easy to think that you’re just one person or one small studio—teaching yoga on a small scale does not mean you’re invisible.
Penalties for infringing on music copyrights can easily soar into the millions—if not billions—of dollars, depending on how many locations you have and how many songs you play. Each instance of copyright infringement is subject to potential liability of up to $150,000—this means that each song you play without a license could potentially cost you six figures.
While there are some services like SiriusXM and MixHits Radio that are sources of music, note that radio broadcasters – whether over the air or online – do not provide performance licenses that cover public performances of music by those who receive their content.
Teachers—don’t think this is just a studio or school issue either. A license from a studio or school will cover you at that location, but think of all the other places you teach—at the park, privately/with a small group, in your local community centers or fitness facilities, even in your YouTube videos. All of these locations are considered public performances, and are subject to music licensing (whether or not you’re making any money off of them).
How to Protect Yourself
There are some options for how to teach yoga without infringing on any musical copyrights, as we mentioned in our last update on the issue. Here’s a recap of some options available to you as a member of the yoga community:
- Obtain Music Licenses
This is definitely your safest option to ensure you or your business is not hit with hefty penalties. Just be sure that you’re covered by all three of the U.S. entities that license public performance rights. While all song copyright owners are represented by a single PRO at a time, each PRO represents a completely different catalog of songs and the song copyright owners can change their PRO at any time, so obtaining licenses from all three is the only way to eliminate the risk of copyright infringement. Holding a license from just one or two of the three PROs will not protect you completely.
- Create Your Own
Additionally, you can commission local musicians to play original songs that they have composed during your class or to record them for you, making sure to get their permission in writing if they make a recording for you and you plan on replaying it later. You can also compose your own original songs yourself.
- Don’t Play Music During Class
The simplest and most cost-effective solution is to simply not play music in your yoga class.
Meet the Main Players in Music Licensing
The public performance rights to most songs in the US are licensed by three Performing Rights Organizations (PROs): ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. As many studio owners know, music licensing fees are expensive, which is why Yoga Alliance® has been working to find more affordable licensing fees for yoga professionals.
We’re excited to announce that we’ve negotiated some special deals for our members or the entire yoga community so that they can affordably protect themselves and follow the law.
These licenses cover all employees and independent contractors who play music while teaching a yoga class in a single location. If your studio has multiple locations, or if you teach yoga in multiple locations that aren’t studios, make sure you have the appropriate number of licenses. Note: these licenses are only available to members of the yoga community in the United States. If you are an international member, we recommend consulting a legal professional in your country.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) is the first and largest music public performance licensing company, with over 10 million licensed songs from over 525,000 artists. Typical yearly license fees range from $100 - $400, depending on the number of students seen each week.
Yoga Alliance negotiated with ASCAP on behalf of the entire yoga community, and now, yoga teachers, schools and studios may purchase an ASCAP premises license for yoga teachers or business owners for only $68.50 per year which covers performances of music in connection with instruction at a physical premises. This discount is not limited to just Yoga Alliance members; all members of the yoga community can access this reduced price.
Premises licenses are valid for 12 months and may be purchased at any point during the year. Visit ASCAP to find more information and to purchase this license.
To date, Yoga Alliance has been unsuccessful in negotiating a rate with BMI. Contact BMI to purchase a license or call 888-689-5264.
SESAC, established in 1930, is the fastest-growing Performing Rights Organization, with over 400,000 licensed songs by over 30,000 artists.
SESAC offers three types of licenses. The Yoga Instructor License is available to the general public and covers individual yoga teachers wherever they conduct a class. The Yoga Studio License is available to Yoga Alliance members only and covers the yoga studio premises for all music played on site, including all classes taught by yoga teachers, music on hold on the telephone and music played during any gathering, function or event.
Effective Jan. 1, 2017, the Yoga Instructor license is $97 per year. The yearly Yoga Studio license is $239.
A website license is available for online classes. SESAC does not offer a discount for this type of license.
To obtain the SESAC yoga instructor, studio (premises) or website license, complete, sign and send the licensing agreement to SESAC at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information can be found on their site or by calling their customer service team at 1-800-826-9996.
Synchronization or Mechanical Licenses
To publish online yoga classes on hosting sites that are synced to music, you must purchase a synchronization "sync" license from the copyright owner.
To sell online yoga classes on hosting sites or a website that are synced to music, you must purchase a mechanical license from the copyright owner. You must also need written permission from the publisher if you use a commercial recording of the song in the video.
The PROs listed above do not offer a "sync" or mechanical license.
We recommend that members of the yoga community consult their legal professional to learn about purchasing a "sync" or mechanical license. Yoga Alliance may provide more information about "sync" and mechanical licenses in the future.
Frequently Asked Questions about Music Licensing
What is a “public performance?”
A public performance is one that occurs either in a public place or any place where people gather (other than a small circle of a family and a small group of its social acquaintances). A public performance is also one that is transmitted to the public; for example, radio or television broadcasts, music-on-hold, cable television, and by the internet. Generally, those who publicly perform music obtain a license from the owner of the music or his representative. However, there are a few limited exceptions, (called "exemptions") to this rule. For example, a license is not required for music played or sung as part of a worship service unless that service is transmitted beyond where it takes place (such as in a radio or television broadcast). Public performances as part of face to face teaching activity at a non-profit educational institution are also exempt.
We recommend that you contact representatives from each PRO to discuss any possible exemptions.
Does playing music in my yoga videos (i.e., YouTube classes, DVD recordings, etc.) count as a public performance?
Yes. To protect yourself/your business, you must get a license from the copyright owner of the songs.
Do I need a license if I’m only using CD’s, records, tapes, radio or TV?
Yes, you will need a license to play CDs, records and/or tapes. A license for radio and television transmissions in your business is not needed if the performance is by means of public TV or radio transmissions in establishments of a certain size which use a limited number of speakers or TVs, if the reception is not further transmitted (for example, from one room to another) from the place in which it is received, and there is no admission charge. A licensing manager from each PRO can discuss your needs and advise how best to proceed if you utilize music from a TV or radio.
If I already have a license from one or two PROs, do I really need all three?
ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are three separate and distinct Performing Rights Organizations (PRO). Each organization represents completely different copyright owners (songwriters, composers, music publishers) and licenses only the copyrighted works of its own respective copyright owners. A license with one of the PROs does not grant you authorization to use the copyrighted music of songwriters, composers and publishers from the other PROs. Most businesses obtain licenses with all three to obtain proper copyright clearance for public performances of virtually all of the copyrighted music in the world.
If others play music in my studio (i.e., independent contractors, people renting out my studio), can I—the owner/operator—still be held liable for copyright infringement?
Yes. The Copyright Law of the United States, and subsequent case law, states that the owner or operator of an establishment where music is publically performed is required to obtain the advanced authorization required for the performance of copyrighted music on the premises.
Does the internet streaming site I use for background music include a license? Will I need to get a license if I use that service?
Most music providers are licensed with PROs. However, their licenses only extend to the music they supply to establishments with no admission, membership or similar charge. Any live or other mechanically played music (i.e., radio, records, tapes, CDs, DVDs, MP3s, large screen or multiple televisions, internet streaming or personal computer) needs to be licensed directly from the PROs. To determine if your background music service provider is properly licensed for your use of the music, please consult with your music service provider or contact a representative from each PRO.
This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide legal advice. Yoga Alliance does not endorse any single organization listed above, nor have they received any financial contributions for their inclusion in this article or taking part in any Online Workshop.