Most business owners said they didn’t know they couldn’t play whatever music they wanted

By Mike Pomranz
October 18, 2018
Photo by Maskot via Getty Images

Small independent coffee shops often consider themselves centers of their local community. Beyond simply serving as a place to hang out, maybe they’ll help promote events or hold their own. Maybe they cover their walls with the work of local artists that patrons can buy to support them. Maybe the owner fires up his Spotify account and plays songs from local acts. That last one may sound innocent enough, but a new report says it’s actually ripping off the people who own the rights to that music—to the tune of $2.65 billion.

Similar to how you can’t buy a Blu-ray and then use it to run your own independent movie theater, business owners are not supposed to use personal services to play music for the public in a business setting. It’s probably one of those things that makes sense when you hear it, but also sounds like something most people never actually worry about in practice. It’s kind of like the jaywalking of white collar crime.

While larger businesses tend to comply with these rules, independent business tend to ignore them, either because they don’t want to pay the higher fees and dealing with it is too much of a hassle, or they don’t know the rules. In fact, a recently released Nielsen Music study commissioned by the background music provider Soundtrack Your Brand (who clearly has some skin in this game) spoke with about 5,000 small-business owners in seven countries and found that 83 percent illicitly use personal music services. But even though 86 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to pay something to play music, 71 percent of American business owners said they didn’t know they couldn’t just use their personal accounts, Munchies reports.

“We weren’t surprised by the results per se, but the scale of it was a little bit daunting, to be honest,” Andreas Liffgarden, Soundtrack Your Brand’s chairman and co-founder, told Rolling Stone. “The music industry at large needs to do better to educate.”

So where does that $2.65 billion figure come from? As the report explains, “An average of $11.96/mo. is lost for every business that uses a free personal music service, and an average of $8.33/mo. is lost for every business that pays for a personal music service.” Multiply that by the suspected 21.3 million businesses using non-business music services, and there you go.

Of course, though independent coffee shops are a good example of the kind of businesses that aren’t complying with the rules, the situation certainly isn’t their fault alone. And honing in on them seems a bit strange: Trying to pit coffee shop patrons and music lovers against each other probably isn’t a great plan. They’re kind of the same group of people.