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How do I avoid paying MPLC’s Umbrella License?

Whatever your organization, controlling costs is critical. We get it – it’s frustrating to find you need to pay for something you hadn’t budgeted for. But what’s even more annoying – and more costly – is paying for litigation and fines because you didn’t get MPLC’s license. In this article, we cover the following information about MPLC licenses:

  • Is an MPLC Umbrella License mandatory?
  • Why an MPLC license is a legal requirement
  • The risks of not paying for an MPLC Umbrella License
  • The types of MPLC license, including the MPLC Umbrella License and the MPLC license cost
  • Are there any MPLC license exemptions?


Is MPLC’s Umbrella License compulsory?
 

If your organization shows content on a public TV or other screen, you could be breaking US copyright laws. This legislation means it’s only legal for you to display most audiovisual content for viewing on a personal basis, typically at home.

If you show TV, movies and other audiovisual content in public – which can mean anywhere from a waiting room to common areas in an apartment block – in the eyes of the law, this is a public performance. For which you’ll need a public performance license – even if you’re not charging anyone a fee to watch. 

US copyright law states when audiovisual content is created, the studios who produce the content, own the copyright for public performances. This applies whether the content is shown via broadcast, cable or satellite TV, DVD, Blu Ray, download or Internet streaming.

However, copyright owners license others to publicly perform their content under specific agreements. Businesses, nonprofits and even government entities must secure a license to show copyrighted works.  


The risks of not paying for a license for your organization 

If your organization does not comply with the Copyright Act, you can find yourself paying some very expensive fines. 

Here’s how it works. Every time you show audiovisual content without MPLC’s Umbrella License, you could be liable for damages of between $750 to $150,000.  A one-off damages payment of $750 might not sound too bad, but it’s unlikely your organization would only be found liable once. That’s because the legislation provides for multiple instances of liability – one for each episode or film that’s shown.

Let’s say you have your public TV on all day:

  • At 9am Friends comes on – that’s an infringement – $750 minimum.
  • At 9.30am, The Big Bang Theory plays – another infringement – $750 minimum. 
  • This is followed by Jurassic Park – $750 minimum.
  • At 1pm Friends is back on – another $750.

That’s $3,000 dollars by lunchtime. And those are just the minimums. 

Over the course of a single day, you can easily see how this adds up. A TV that’s on from 9am to 5pm, could show up to 16 half-hour TV shows. This single day could cost your organization at least $12,000 in damages. And that’s without any legal costs. 

The $198,728 copyright fine case

Here’s a real-life example of the damages and legal fees incurred by one organization who broke music copyright law.

When the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) offered the owners of a chain of restaurants a license to play music by their members, the owners refused. So, ASCAP contracted an independent investigator to visit the restaurant and report on the music played there. 

The case went to court which found in ASCAP’s favor. Courts typically reserve the highest damage awards for organizations that are aware of their copyright obligations and choose to ignore them. In this case, the restaurant chain was required to pay $36,000 in statutory damages and $162,728 in legal fees.

Avoid litigation and stay legal with an MPLC license

To avoid the legal hassle and significant expense that can come from breaking US copyright law, you simply need to get MPLC’s Umbrella License.

This license enables organizations to legally show TV series and movies in public from more than 1,000 rights’ holders, assuming no admission fee is charged and any promotion falls within MPLC’s guidelines.  

The Umbrella License provides a range of benefits including:

  1. A low annual Umbrella License cost – most licenses are only a few hundred dollars a year.
  2. Unlimited performances.
  3. No reporting requirements for titles, dates or times of performances.
  4. Convenient–access from any legal audiovisual content intended for personal, private use. 


How to get your license from MPLC

To get an MPLC Umbrella License and the peace of mind it brings:

  1. Contact us for a free quote. We’ll provide you with the license cost based on your industry or number of facilities or employee count.
  2. Complete an application form.
  3. Receive your license certificate demonstrating your copyright compliance.
  4. Start showing movies, TV and other audiovisual content.


Your organization will be added to our database so we know you’re covered. This means you won’t receive any enforcement action. And, as long as you continue to renew your MPLC license and stick to the license conditions, you’ll avoid the risk of any copyright litigation from our rights holders. 

Renewing your license is also easy. We’ll send you an invoice each year which can quickly be paid online. 

Are there any MPLC license exemptions?

Yes, the law provides for a few narrow exemptions. But they are not typically relevant for most modern organizations. Nonetheless, if you think an exemption could apply to your business, you should contact MPLC or a copyright lawyer to discuss your situation.

We often speak to organizations who think they might qualify for an MPLC license exemption for one of the following reasons. Only to find they still need a license due to copyright law:

  1. Not charging a fee or cover charge 
    Even if you don’t charge people to watch audiovisual content you still need an MPLC license. MPLC’s Umbrella License only covers situations where admission is free.
  2. Playing TV with the sound off
    Even if you play your TV with the sound off, copyright laws protect the visual elements of the copyrighted work.
  3. Being a not-for-profit organization
    The US Copyright Act 1976 applies to for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
  4. Not being open to the general public
    Public performance licenses are still needed in any place where a substantial number of people outside a normal circle of family and friends is gathered. This includes clubs, lodges, factories, summer camps and schools. Courts have even decided that hotel lobbies and bedrooms and even a phone booth are public places.
  5. Renting out your facility to other organizations
    Even if another organization infringes copyright laws on your property, you can still be held indirectly liable.


Buying an MPLC license keeps your organization legal, reduces your risk of litigation and maintains your reputation. All of which could save you significant sums of money in the long-run. 

Find out more about buying your MPLC license by contacting our licensing team on 1-866-552-MPLC (6752).