So, for the past several months I have been receiving letters from SESAC regarding music licensing.
For any of you who are not aware, I am one of the co-hosts of America’s Debate Radio, and online political call-in show. The show airs once per week on Wednesdays. During each show, we usually take two breaks that last about 10 minutes each. During these breaks, we play music.
Now, before we started broadcasting I personally contacted every single music licensing agency for pricing and usage information: ASCAP, SESAC, BMI, SoundExchange, the Harry Fox agency. I contacted everyone. Some took months to respond, some never responded.
According to many of the agencies, we would need two separate licenses in order to broadcast music from their respective catalogs: One for the podcast since the music contained within a podcast is downloadable, and a separate license for the streaming broadcast.
The general summary of each licensing agency that responded is that the licensing costs per year were well above our total annual operating budget for the radio program– $200– and even above our entire annual operating budget — about $2,000– for America’s Debate in its entirety. Obviously, we could not afford to use commercially licensed music, and needed an alternative.
That alternative came in two forms: Music licensed under the Creative Commons license, and music released by independent artists and used only with permission.
The Creative Commons music that we use on America’s Debate Radio — ALL of it– is from GarageBand.com. Garageband allows artists to release their music to the public under several different licenses, one of which is the Creative Commons license. That license allows us to play and distribute that music within our broadcasts provided proper attribution is given. So, Jaime and I spent two days hunting through GarageBand.com for music released under that license. We saved every song we found, and we reviewed it for airworthiness at a later date.
The music released by independent artists is really music from one guy, his old band, and another band from right here in Georgia. Dirk Lind, formerly of Baaba Seth and currently a staffer from America’s Debate, gave me permission to use music from his old band. Not only did he give me that permission, but he also gave me permission to use the new music he has composed and listed at his website. The Georgia band is The Robbie Ducey Band, a blues band from Georgia. Robbie Ducey himself gave me permission via email to use his music, provided proper attribution is made.
So, that is the music we play. Free music used under its license, or music that has been given to us by bands who are unsigned and not under contract with any of the major music licensing agencies.
Back to SESAC. For the past several months, SESAC has been sending me letters accompanied by payment envelopes. These letters don’t so much as state that I have used their music in violation of their license, but it is certainly implied. Here is the letter I received today:
As you can see, it is quite threatening in nature.
“The unauthorized performance of copyrighted music represents an infringement of copyright and is a violation of Federal Law.”
Yeah, no joke. That is why we don’t use any copyrighted music. That fact won’t change, no matter how many implications of infringement you assert.
“Despite several notices of your need to obtain permission to perform the copyrighted compositions of our affiliates, we have not heard from you nor have we received the signed license agreement that would authorize such performances.”
Right, I ignored most of the notices since we do not play music owned by SESAC, and therefore we are under no obligation to pay licensing fees for music that we have not used. I did respond to the most recent letter stating that we only use Creative Commons music, and asking that I be removed from their mailing list.
“Enclosed is additional information regarding SESAC and the requirements placed upon music users under the United States Copyright Act. It makes good business sense to obtain a SESAC blanket license and avoid infringing the copyrights of our affiliated music composers and publishers.”
There was no enclosure. Regardless, I know the law, and nowhere in the law does it place any requirements upon me to license music I have not used.
“If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 928-757-5326, by facsimile at 952-674-1910 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I did contact him. The results will be my next blog post.
“Please complete, sign and return the SESAC Performance License together with your license fee payment. Upon receipt of the signed license agreement and payment, an executed copy of the document will be returned to you for your records.”
Again, we don’t need to license music we don’t use. Just as the federal government requires a license before, oh, say, opening up a strip mine, that does not mean I must obtain a license just because I own a shovel and that shovel could be used to illegally strip mine without a license. Yeah, I’m capable of broadcasting your music. That doesn’t mean I have broadcast it, nor does it mean I need a license to broadcast it as long as I– you guessed it– don’t broadcast it.
“Additional information about SESAC and our licensing service is available at www.sesac.com.”
Great, I have a website too.
As you can tell, this letter is meant to scare me into paying for licensing I do not need.
If I had used their music without a license, all they would need to do is send a certified cease and desist letter to our Registered Agent as is on file with the Georgia Secretary of State. The letter would come from an attorney and not a Music Licensing Consultant. And the letter would specifically list the materials upon which I have infringed and the date and time of the infringement.
This appears to be nothing more than a bullying tactic based on a poorly-researched hunch, and backed up by federal law that they have interpreted as having granted them the right to bully and harass legitimate and legally-operated organizations.
I called the number listed. I will post the summary of the conversation as my next blog post.