Music Licensing Laws for Group Fitness Classes

Music is essential to your classes, just make sure you don't end up paying huge fines for using it.

As a group exercise instructor, music is essential to our way of life. We purchase and consume new music at a much faster rate than other professions. We spend a large percentage of our income on music, whether we are choosing the music on iTunes, making our own playlist on a fitness music provider, or receiving music as part of our monthly subscription to a fitness program.

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of speculation and rumors about music as it relates to group ex professionals and the question what music can we legally use?

Private Licensed Music

Music licensing was created to ensure that the owners of copyrighted music are compensated for uses of their art and creations. When you purchase music, you are purchasing a private license, which gives you permission to play the music for personal use.

Personal use can be defined as non-commercial use, in other words, in locations where you are not collecting money on your behalf or someone else’s.  

This private license does NOT give you permission to use the music in a public arena, especially when people are paying to participate (ie. people in your classes are paying a membership to the facility to experience your group exercise class).

Public Performance License

To play music in a public arena, you need to purchase additional licensing called public performance license. The reasoning behind this additional license is that your business is benefiting from the performance of the music, and thus the copyright owners should be fairly compensated. If you are playing music in public without a license, you are breaking the law.

This additional licensing is a public performance license, but is generally referred to as a blanket licensing, which covers all musical activity in a business.

Performance Rights Organizations, known as PROs, collect licensing fees from users to pay copyright owners. There are three PROs in the United States:

A few things to note about these companies in general:

  1. They represent different songwriters and copyright owners
  2. They do not work as an alliance
  3. They are three different entities that do not work together
  4. They sell the public performance licenses that represent their different copyright owners and make it possible for restaurants, stores, dance studios, fitness gyms and bars to play music.

Oh, and don’t think you get out of this if you are in other countries, there are organizations all over the world that protect artists and have rules for use in fitness centers, such as Music Rights Australia – which states:

“The Copyright Act allows you to copy music legitimately obtained for your private and domestic use on another device that you own eg. from CD to iPod. However, this does not extend to use of the music in a fitness class.”

Public Performance License & Fitness centers, gyms, and studios

For the most part, large fitness gym chains also have blanket licensing so that you can play music in your group exercise class and in the weight room.  As mentioned above, when using your awesome playlists in your classes it is a PUBLIC space and people are paying to attend this public “event” (ie. your class), thus a public performance licensing is required.

PROs collect fees from businesses, not employees. If you are an employee, it is not your responsibility to purchase a blanket public performance license. The fee is the responsibility of the business and must be purchased for each of the PROs.

Blanket license fees are determined by the square footage of the business, population of the participants, and the amount of speakers in a facility. Certain franchises or businesses with multiple locations can negotiate deals to cover multiple places under one license.

Using music in your classes

While you may believe that using music from a music provider such as Pandora, Spotify or other “background music subscription” services that you don’t need to worry about all these licensing issues, sorry to burst your bubble but YOU ARE WRONG!  It is ILLEGAL to use streaming background music subscriptions in your classes.

Have you ever questioned the music made by fitness music companies? Or what about that music you’re sent each month from your different fitness organizations, is it legit and licensed for public playing?  Guess what…NOT LICENSED. 

That’s right, in the fine print you will see that all of that music you are streaming in or purchasing is NOT covered for use in your classes.  ASCAP does not hide this from public knowledge, and has a full brochure available on their website specifically for fitness centers, PLUS rules can specifically be found in the fine print of many contracts.

Take these three pieces of contract for example:

ASCAP Limitations To License Agreement held with all Background Music Subscriber
  • Section 2(b): “This license shall not under any circumstance extend to (i) any premises to which an admission, membership or similar fee is charged at the time LICENSEE’s Background/Foreground Music Service is provided, or at which dancing or similar activity (e.g. aerobics or “jazzercise”) in conjunction with LICENSEE’s Background/Foreground Music Service occurs;”
  • Section 6(b): “You shall not use the Service in any ballrooms, discotheques, dance studios or bowling centers; any theme park, skating rink or nightclub or other location where an admission fee or cover charge is assessed; or in instructed health club classes.”

Read the full service agreement here – ASCAP BACKGROUND MUSIC SERVICE AGREEMENT

Fitness Music Companies, including Dynamix and Power Music (for a full list check out our music resources page).
  • In the fine print on Dynamix Music’s FAQ page, it states: “All Dynamix releases are legally licensed music compilations. This means we have paid for the right to obtain a master recording, and duplicate that recording for public sale. While the licensing fees we pay for this purpose protect us, they do not protect you, as an instructor.  For that, all fitness clubs and centers (and other public or private facilities) are required to pay for the right to play publicly protected musical works. A blanket license from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC is required for this.
  • Power Music has a very similar statement on their Music Licensing page.
Zumba License Agreement
  • Section 6.4(c): “Instructor acknowledges that most of the musical compositions included with Instructor’s ZIN materials are not Zumba original compositions, are not licensed for public performance, and may not be used in any videos or for any commercial purpose unless local music licensing requirements have been met.”

Music Licensing and your gym

If you do not pay for a blanket license for your studio, a licensing manager will contact you and request you start paying for the blanket license from that day forward. If you refuse or ignore the contact, the PRO can fine you and in extreme cases, take legal action.  BMI has a page specifically devoted to music and group exercise classes, thus if you try to argue with them, you are in the wrong.

As discussed by Gary Kissiah in an article about ASCAP in yoga studies, it is stated: “remember, there is little that you can do.  ASCAP has lawyers, money and are experts at extracting licensing fees. If you decide not to pay the fee, ASCAP will ramp up the pressure until you do and you may be at risk for an infringement action. The fine under the Copyright Act for a public performance violation can be as high as $150,000 per occurrence (i.e., per song played).”

“But do I HAVE to pay?”

Don’t believe they will ever come after you?  Just ask these yoga studio owners how they felt when ASCAP started to call them and demand money for not having a license.

If you are a studio or gym owner, you need to purchase music licensing from the PROs. Sadly, there is no way to negotiate around this issue.  Don’t try to argue that you didn’t told, because as shown above, it is written everywhere and outlined clearly and they really won’t care if you didn’t read it.

If you just sign things without taking the time to read the Terms and Agreement before maybe it’s time you start learning what you are signing.

Find the Best Music!

Now that you know the regulations around music, check out this list of places to find great group exercise music, create playlists, use apps, or simply listen to music.

Music Licensing Laws for Group Fitness Classes

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