A Crash Course in Yoga Music Licensing in the United States
Last Updated: August 13, 2020
Please note: this covers only music licensing in the United States. If you are a member outside the US, please consult a legal professional within your country.
Do I Need Permission To Play Music In Class?
Playing music during a yoga class, regardless of location, constitutes a public performance, which means you’re supposed to receive permission from the copyright owner. Rights are typically attained through the payment of a licensing fee to a Performing Rights Organization (PRO).
What Happens If I Don’t Pay?
A number of Yoga Alliance members in the United States have let us know that they have been contacted by licensing organizations and are now subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Most were like you—one small school or individual teacher. But teaching yoga on a small scale does not mean you’re immune from following the law.
Penalties for copyright infringement can easily soar into hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on how many classes you teach, how many school locations you operate, how many songs you play. Each instance of copyright infringement is subject to potential liability of up to $150,000! —which means each song you play without a license could cost you upwards of six figures.
But I Source My Music through a Third Party—I’m Okay, Right?
Services like SiriusXM or Spotifiy or Pandora certainly are great sources of music for us to enjoy on our own time for our own listening pleasure. But they do not provide performance licenses that cover public performances of their listeners—such as by you as a yoga school or yoga teacher.
I’m a Teacher, and I Know My Studio Has a License—I’m Okay, Right?
Yes and no. While at that school or studio you might be covered, consider all of the other places where you might teach yoga—at a park, at a corporate office, at your community recreation center, via a YouTube video. If you teach at any or all of these locations—and anywhere in-between—you are performing publicly and would therefore be subject to music licensing law.
Okay, but I Volunteer Teach—I’m Okay, Right?
No. You still would be subject to music licensing law.
What Can I Do?
Here are some options available to you as a member of the yoga community:
Obtain Music Licenses.
To ensure your school, your studio and/or you as an individual teacher are not subject to copyright infringement penalties, purchase a license from one or all three of the US entities that license public performance rights. While all music copyright owners are only represented by one PRO (performing rights organizations—see the section below) at a time, each PRO represents a completely different catalog of songs. The music copyright owners can change their PRO at any time, so obtaining licenses from all three is the safest way to eliminate the risk of copyright infringement. See below for information on each.
Get a Subscription.
Subscribe to a streaming service or app that offers music with a license for public performance, like SiriusXM or YogiTunes. These services may include a wide assortment of music options suitable for different types of yoga and options to build custom playlists. YogiTunes is the world’s largest catalog of independent health and wellness music with over 400 artists and 12,000 tracks that includes licensed music for public performances in the US. A ‘fair trade’ streaming music service, subscribers benefit from their curated playlists and can also easily create their own. Yoga Alliance members receive 50% off the YogiTunes service by accessing the discount here.
Create Your Own Music.
You can commission local musicians to play their music at your school or during your classes—or better yet—invite them to come and perform live! Just be sure to sign a legal agreement with the copyright owner with their permission in writing if they record a song for you and you plan on replaying it later. Are you musically-inclined yourself? If so, maybe now’s the time to compose your own original songs!
Choose Not to Play Music During Class.
The simplest and most cost-effective solution is to simply not play music in your yoga class.
Who Are the Three Main PROs?
Three Performing Rights Organizations (PROs)—ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC—license the vast majority of public performance rights in the United States.
Below, we’ve summarized these organizations’ available arrangements and any applicable discounts so that you can easily protect yourselves, given the laws surrounding music licensing and public performances. These available agreements cover all employees and independent contractors who play music while teaching yoga in a single location. If your school has multiple locations, or if you are a teacher instructing in multiple locations that aren’t schools, make sure you have secured the appropriate number of licenses.
Please note—this information pertains to Yoga Alliance members in the United States. If you are an international member, please consult a legal professional within your country.
The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) is one of the largest performing rights organizations in the country and the only one owned and operated by its music creator members. The ASCAP repertory includes millions of songs from hundreds of thousands of songwriters, composers, and music publishers.
ASCAP has created a new licensing agreement that is tailor-made for the fitness and yoga industries and covers performances of music in connection with instruction at one (1) physical premise. Premise licenses are valid for 12 months and may be purchased at any point during the year.
This license is specifically for instructors who teach fewer than 10 sessions per week outside of fitness facilities or yoga schools/studios. This license is available at a discounted, introductory rate. To secure these discounts, fill out the form at the bottom of ASCAP’s Fitness License page. A representative from ASCAP will then contact you to complete your license. You will need to share your Yoga Alliance membership credential to receive the discount. Note: if you are an RYT interested in the individual yoga instructor license, please mention this in the “Tell us about your business” field on the online form.
Contact Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) directly to inquire about licensing. BMI does not currently offer discounted rates for yoga instructors.
SESAC, established in 1930, has over 400,000 licensed songs created by more than 30,000 artists. SESAC offers three types of licenses:
- The Yoga Studio License is available to Yoga Alliance RYS members and covers the yoga school/studio premises for all music played on site; including all classes taught by yoga teachers, on-hold music via the telephone; and music played during any gathering, function, or event at the licensed location.
- The Yoga Instructor License is available to the general public and covers individual yoga teachers wherever they conduct a class.
- A website license is available for online classes. SESAC does not offer a discount for this type of license.
To inquire about any of these licenses, visit their site and complete, sign, and send the licensing agreement directly to SESAC.
Frequently Asked Questions about Music Licensing
What is a “public performance?”
A public performance is one that occurs either in a public place or any place where people gather (other than a small circle of a family and a small group of its social acquaintances). A public performance is also one that is transmitted to the public, for example, radio or television broadcasts, music-on-hold, cable television, and via the Internet. Generally, those who publicly perform music obtain a license from the owner of the music or his or her representative.
There are a few limited exceptions, called "exemptions." For example, a license is not required for music played or sung as part of a worship service unless that service is transmitted beyond where it takes place (such as in a radio or television broadcast). Public performances as part of a face-to-face teaching activity at a non-profit educational institution are also exempt.
We recommend that you contact your legal professional or representatives from each PRO to discuss any possible exemptions.
Do I need a license if I’m only using CDs, records, tapes, radio, or TV?
Yes, you will need a license to play CDs, records, and/or tapes.
A license for radio and TV transmissions is not needed if the performance is by means of public radio or TV transmissions in establishments of a certain size that use a limited number of speakers or TVs, if the reception is not further transmitted (for example, from one room to another) from the place in which it is received, and if there is no admission charge.
A licensing manager from each PRO can discuss your needs and advise how best to proceed if you utilize music from a radio or TV.
If others play music in my school or studio (i.e., independent contractors, sub-lessees), can I—the owner/operator—still be held liable for copyright infringement?
Unfortunately, yes. The Copyright Law of the United States, and subsequent case law states that the owner or operator of an establishment where music is publicly performed is required to obtain the advanced authorization required for the performance of copyrighted music on the premises.
Does the internet streaming site I use for background music include a license? Will I need to get a license if I use one of these services?
Most music providers are licensed with PROs. However, their licenses only extend to the music they supply to establishments with no admission, membership, or similar charge. Any live or other mechanically played music (i.e., radio, records, tapes, CDs, DVDs, MP3s, large screen or multiple televisions, Internet streaming, or personal computer) needs to be licensed directly from the PROs.
To determine if your background music service provider is properly licensed for your use of the music, please consult with your legal professional, your music service provider, or a representative from each PRO.
What is a "Sync" License and when do I need one?
To publish online yoga classes synced to music, you must purchase a synchronization, or "sync” license, from the copyright owner. This includes videos hosted on YouTube or via personal websites as well as classes recorded via DVD or other mechanism.
What if I'm selling online classes synced to music?
To sell online yoga classes synced to music, you must purchase a mechanical license from the copyright owner. You must also procure written permission from the publisher if you use a commercial recording of the song in the online class.
The PROs listed above unfortunately do not offer either a sync or mechanical license.
We recommend that you consult your legal professional to learn about purchasing a sync or mechanical license.
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide legal advice. Yoga Alliance does not endorse any single organization listed above, nor have they received any financial contributions for their inclusion in this article or taking part in any Online Workshop.