TruthSquad: Does My Wedding DJ Need a License?

by Jennifer Reitmeyer on April 7, 2011

 
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This week we’re back laying waste to more nonsense – with a heaping dollop of snark, of course.  This time we are going to tackle a common question:

Does my wedding DJ need to be licensed by ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC?

This is a question that gets asked because a small handful of unscrupulous DJs decide to lie to engaged couples, telling them that DJs need to be “licensed” and that somehow they are at risk of a lawsuit if they hire another DJ.  If a DJ has told you that they are licensed, or that there is some sort of license that pertains to being a DJ or playing music at your wedding or anything of that sort, they are lying.  Period.  We’ve already written about DJs lying about their equipment, which is pretty low, but this is just unacceptable.  Not only is this complete and total hogwash, but it’s just mean to scare people who are simply trying to plan their wedding.

Copyright Licensing for Mobile DJs

Some DJs have been confused in the past about carrying membership in performing arts organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC because the rules differ depending on the performance type.  The way their licensing is structured, it is actually the responsibility of the venue (bar, nightclub, etc.) to maintain membership and pay royalties.  DJs playing for the public (so not for private events like weddings) then provide a list to the venue of the music that was played – that’s it.  If a DJ plays for the public outside of a licensed establishment, then they are responsible for paying the royalties.  This type of copyright licensing has absolutely nothing to do with weddings and private events.  Just to be sure, I went straight to the source and asked these organizations directly.  Here’s what they said:

“ASCAP does not license DJs. It is the venue, establishment, or promoter of an event that is responsible for public performance licensing, not the performer. Private events such as weddings, etc. are exempt from licensing.”
- Bryn Caryl, ASCAP

“BMI licenses the “public performance” of music… events such as private parties and weddings are not required to have a license.”
- Jaqui Garlan, BMI

“Royalty fees are not collected for private performances.”
- David Derryberry, SESAC

It doesn’t get any more definitive than that.  A lie like this is often used as a scare tactic by DJs, which we discuss at length in the DJ Shopping Guide

The Myth of a “DJ License”

In Canada, DJs have the option to obtain a license from their Audio-Video Licensing Agency, or AVLA.  This permits DJs to legally rip or copy their CDs for use on the job without fear of prosecution, for around $350 per year.  It’s actually a good idea, I wish we had it in the USA — but I digress.  However, an AVLA license isn’t required to be a DJ – it’s purely voluntary and only has to do with copying music.  That’s it. 

Every year we get calls from engaged couples who have been told that they spoke with a DJ who claimed to be “licensed” as a DJ and that most DJs aren’t.  I have to assume the impetus for saying this is the same as the claim about copyright licensure – to scare people into booking them.  Besides a standard business license from the state, there is no license required for running a DJ business.  There is no such thing as a “DJ License,” as great as that may sound, and one will almost certainly never exist.  If anyone tells you otherwise, please smack them for me and every other honest DJ out there.  In short:

There is no such thing as a “DJ License,” and ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC licensing does not apply to DJs or to private events.

Hopefully that settles that question, if you have a question you’d like answered or a claim you’d like to have debunked and kicked in the pants please let me know!  Until next time…

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