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Is it illegal for Malaysian shops to play music without a license?

27 days ago JS Lim

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This article is for general informational purposes only and is not meant to be used or construed as legal advice in any manner whatsoever. All articles have been scrutinized by a practicing lawyer to ensure accuracy.

If you’re not already sitting in your favourite cafe right now, you probably remember the experience in the back of your mind. The smell of coffee (or tea), the right atmosphere to your liking, and that background music of tunes you love.

The drinks aside, a big part of why you love being there in the first place might actually be the kind of music they play, setting just the kind of atmosphere you enjoy. What you might not know is that you’re listening to the sounds of...thievery.

 

Businesses need to buy a license from the music creators

Image from giphy

You might already know that music is copyrighted material and is owned by the people who created that music together. So, if anyone else wants to use the work, the creators have to be paid a licensing fee to “buy permission” to use the work, and reward the creators for their creation as well.

[READ MORE - How does copyright work in Malaysia?]

Our copyright laws outline certain situations, called “fair use”, when the public is allowed to use copyrighted material, such as for critique and educational reasons. But businesses clearly use music for commercial purposes, so unless the business composed and played that music by themselves, the copyright holders need to be paid. You can find out more about “fair use” in our other article linked below.

[READ MORE - Is Instagramming movies in the cinemas considered "fair use"?]

Normally, a music playlist will consist of songs from various artists and labels; which means that, by extension, you would need to get a license from each and every copyright holder whose work you play in your premises. You would be committing copyright infringement and be subject to legal action otherwise.

[READ MORE - Is stealing ideas illegal in Malaysia?]

It can be really troublesome to get the rights for every song you want to play in your cafe, but there’s actually an easier way to handle this.

 

You can just get a license from Music Rights Malaysia

Image from Music Rights Malaysia

Music Rights Malaysia (MRM) acts like a central body which is supposed to make sure the right creators get paid when their work is used. They’re empowered under Section 27A of the Copyright Act as a “licensing body” - essentially taking care of licensing for their members.

You can find a list of their tariffs for at their website, but here’s a direct link to their prices for 2017-2018. They have different rates for different sizes of businesses, from airplanes, to hotels, cafes, karaoke centres, and even concerts and road shows.

You may want to check which artists MRM represents, though, as you can still get in trouble if you’re using copyrighted material from creators who they don’t cover. If you need to find out more about licensing with them, you find their list of FAQs here, or contact them directly.

 

You might not need a license from MRM if you’ve already paid another licensor

Image from MusicInAfrica

A lot of people may not realize that it’s illegal to play songs from personal streaming services like Spotify and YouTube for public events (unless you fall into the “fair use” exceptions, which we’ve covered here before).

This means that even though you have a Spotify subscription for example, their terms clearly state that your Spotify is for personal use only, and you need to use another service called Soundtrack Your Brand if you want to play music in public.

If you’ve paid a creator directly for licensing fees to use their work, you may not need to get another license from MRM - because you’ve already paid the creator what’s due, it wouldn’t make sense to make you pay the same fee again. However, this only applies if you only use material from the creators you’ve actually paid. So for example, if you’ve only paid to use Lady Gaga’s songs, you should not play anything from other musicians without getting a separate license for them.

On the other hand, if you want to save on costs and also avoid any legal trouble, you could consider looking for royalty-free music online, which you won’t have to get copyright licenses for.

Tags:
copyright
license
play music in public
malaysian copyright act 1987
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JS Lim

Jie Sheng knows a little bit about a lot, and a lot about a little bit. He swings between making bad puns and looking overly serious at screens. People call him "ginseng" because he's healthy and bitter, not because they can't say his name properly.


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