American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise
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Music legality has often been a source of confusion for group fitness instructors; this is compounded by the new and complex reality of classes moving online. While virtual delivery can be achieved in a variety of ways, one thing is consistent across virtual platforms: Unless you (or the facility for whom you are teaching) own the rights to play the given music selections, you must pay for the privilege to do so. 

Purchasing a CD or MP3, or even subscribing to services such as Apple Music or Spotify, affords you basic permission to play the music in your possession for personal use only. Using music beyond personal use requires various music licenses to ensure the music creators (writers, musicians, producers and record labels) are compensated for the use of their art. 

Let’s explore the ways in which you, or your club, can legally secure the rights to play music in-person and for virtual applications. Keep in mind that how you deliver your class determines what type of license would be required to play any music you would like. 

  

In-person 

 

Virtual 

 

  

 

On-demand 

Livestreaming 

Social Media Sites 

Responsible Party 

Physical location 

Instructor or organization providing the class 

Instructor or organization providing the class 

The social media site itself (e.g., Facebook, Instagram or YouTube) 

Details 

To use commercial music*, you need coverage from the four major performance rights organizations (PROs), which typically involves an annual fee. 

To use commercial music*, you need to obtain the “right” to play the song, which is typically a negotiated rate with the record label and publisher, charged per song per play. 

To use commercial music*, you need coverage from the four major performance rights organizations (PROs), which typically involves an annual fee and/or you need to obtain the “right” to play the song, which is typically a negotiated rate with the record label and publisher, charged per song per play. 

Unfortunately, commercial music cannot be used on these platforms, as the social media site would need to obtain the license for you to play your music. 

Need 

Public performance license 

Synchronization license 

Unclear

Public performance license or  synchronization and public performance licenses 

N/A 

Solution 

Purchase license from the PROs or use royalty-free music 

Purchase synchronization license or use royalty-free music 

Purchase both types of licenses or use royalty-free music 

Use royalty-free music 

* Commercial music can be defined as any music produced that is being marketed directly to the general public by any medium. For our purposes, consider “popular” music you may be obtaining from Apple Music or Spotify as fitting into this category. 

Let’s review the solutions indicated above: 

Purchasing a license from the PROs

If you are a U.S.–based instructor, for scenarios where a license is required (i.e., in-person and livestream), you need to contact and pay for a blanket license from at least one of the four major performance rights organizations (PROs) listed below. 

Of note, there are more than 60 global PROs representing artists (including U.S.–based artists) in other countries. Unfortunately, these organizations do not work together as a collective and most likely your commercial playlist includes songs that are covered under separate organizations. Therefore, you need to purchase a blanket license from each of the four organizations or understand the music catalog each one covers to determine which tracks are covered under the license you obtain. Typically, a facility would take care of obtaining such license(s) for group fitness instructors. However, if you are working for yourself, either in a studio or online, you need to ensure you are in compliance. 

It is also important to note that licensing from the PROs only covers you if your classes have no “shelf-life,” meaning the class is not recorded in any way that you will use in the future (in the case of livestreaming). And, having a license for your in-person classes does not cover your livestreaming classes. You need to cover those separately. 

Purchasing a synchronization license

Synchronization licenses are custom negotiated directly with the rights holders, usually two or more parties, upfront and can be quite complex. It is important to note that underlying what most people think of as a "song" is actually two parts: the composition (music notes and lyrics that make up a song, created by the composers), which is typically represented by the publisher, and the original recorded audio (recording of musicians playing the song, created by the artists), which is typically represented by a record label. Often, the composers and artists are the same people, but not always. Therefore, to obtain a sync license, you have to contact both parties. You can contact them directly or by contacting a media attorney, or some companies like EasySongLicensing.com can help. Be prepared for fairly hefty advances and royalties. 

Using royalty-free music

To avoid paying for annual licenses from the PROs (as described above), you can choose to use royalty-free music, which refers to a type of music licensing that allows the purchaser to pay for the music license only once and to use the music for as long as desired. Organizations that supply royalty-free music produce stock music libraries and license to a customer for a one-time synchronization fee versus paying each time the song is used. In other words, regardless of how often or how far into the future you use the song(s), no additional monies are collected by the company. This is somewhat analogous to stock photos. 

We encourage group fitness instructors to start their search with music companies that specialize in royalty-free music for the fitness industry, such as Muscle Mixes MusicPower MusicDynamix, and Yes! Fitness Music, to name a few. These organizations can help you identify which of their subscriptions works best for your method of delivery, as not all royalty-free music is intended for commercial use. Generally, this is the most cost-effective route to meet your virtual class needs. 

In short, just because a song is a “cover” does not grant you permission to put it in a video.

While you may observe instructors continuing to play music that has not been properly licensed, it’s important to understand the possible ramifications. Beyond potentially being fined for each infraction (i.e., each time that you have played a song without paying for the rights to use the music), if you are using social media to deliver your classes (e.g., recorded or livestreaming videos on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube), you run the risk of your class being stopped midstream (in the case of live) or being taken down (recorded). These social media giants can be held responsible for the lack of licensing and are therefore extremely diligent in policing these potential infractions with the use of complex detection algorithms. Adding disclaimers such as, “I do not own the rights to this music,” does not protect you from potential legal action or your videos being shut down and removed from social sites. 

ACE is providing this information for educational purposes to give you general information and understanding, not to provide specific legal advice. This should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. We encourage you to consult with a professional legal advisor in your location.