SOCAN Background Music Licensing: What You Need to Know

Do you own a restaurant, bar, hotel, retail store, professional office or similar type of business? If so – and if you play music in any public spaces – you’ll need the appropriate SOCAN music licensing from the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN).

This licence, which is certified by the Copyright Board of Canada, gives you permission to use copyright protected musical works from anywhere around the world. The music licence fees collected are distributed as royalties to SOCAN members who are songwriters, composers, lyricists and music publishers.

In 2014, SOCAN will be launching a campaign to contact retailers across Canada regarding music licensing, so if your business plays copyrighted music for the public you’ll want to make sure you have obtained the appropriate license (or licenses) in order to do so.

What Kind of Socan Music Licensing Will I Need and How Do I Get it?

There are two ways of getting your licence. You can get it directly with SOCAN as a Background Music licence under Tariff 15A, or through a subscription with a Background Music Supplier under Tariff 16.

Tariff 15A

Tariff 15A is an annual blanket license that allows you to play background music for the public in your establishment. Licensees have to purchase their own music, such as CDs, digital downloads, Internet-based radio, or TV. This license also covers the use of music in videos shown to the public.

Please note that a SOCAN license is not required if playing regular (non-Internet) AM/FM radio for the public on four or less speakers at your place of business.

The annual fee for Tariff 15A will be based on the size of the area accessible to the public.

Tariff 16

Tariff 16 covers background music and hold music provided by a music supplier. These music suppliers will often offer subscription-based packages of music to suit your customers and your brand.

When you purchase a subscription through a background music supplier, you will pay SOCAN license fees through your subscription to your supplier (instead of directly to SOCAN as with Tariff 15A).

What About Non-Subscription Hold Music?

As noted above, Tariff 16 covers both background music and hold music. However, if your phone system plays copyright-protected music for customers while they’re on hold, and that music isn’t provided by a subscription-based music supplier licensed under Tariff 16 or regular AM/FM radio, you’ll need a separate license under Tariff 15B.

Tariff 15B, like 15A, is an annual blanket license and is based on the number of lines on which music can be heard at any given time.

What Do SOCAN Licenses Cost?

Under Tariff 15A, the annual license fee is $1.23 per square metre ($0.1146 per square foot) plus applicable taxes for the area of your business accessible to the public. The license fee is halved for businesses operating less than six months of the year, but minimum fee of $94.51 may apply.

Under Tariff 15B, the annual fee for telephone hold music is $94.51 for the main line plus $2.09 for each additional line.

SOCAN offers fee calculators on its website to help you approximate how much each of these licenses will cost.

If you purchase a subscription through a music supplier under Tariff 16, the fees will vary depending your contract. You’ll have to contact specific music suppliers for more information on the cost and to confirm what kind of usage the license covers.

Note that SOCAN licenses are not based on frequency of use – once you’ve paid the required annual licensing fee, you play as much or as little music as you like and can use any genre of music from the world’s entire repertoire.

Are Any Other Licenses Required to Play Music at My Business?

In addition to SOCAN licenses, you many need to obtain other licenses from Re:Sound in order to legally play music in your business establishment.

SOCAN represents the rights of composers and music publishers, while Re:Sound represents the rights of artists and record companies (both organizations have their tariffs certified by the Copyright Board of Canada). Re:Sound has a similar, although slightly more streamlined, tariff structure for retail, hospitality and similar businesses.

If any of the above SOCAN licenses are applicable to your business, you’ll likely want to look into Re:Sound’s Background Music Tariff (T3). Re:Sound also provides a fee calculator on its site to help you estimate what your annual license will cost.

For More Information

Ultimately, as the business owner it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re informed about what licenses you need to play music for the public at your place of business, and there are fines for non-compliance.

You can read more about music licensing and SOCAN or visit for more information on background music licenses.

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