Hello to the wonderful BeYogi community. My name is Cory Sterling and I'm a lawyer with Conscious Counsel.
With the pandemic we are experiencing, more and more yoga professionals are moving their classes online. When it comes to using or streaming music for your classes, this begs the question:
Are you legally allowed to be playing music for your classes?
The short answer? It depends. Let's explore the ways you can legally use music for your classes and ensure you are at best legal practices for your business.
Today, most of us play music through streaming services and applications like Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music. As an example, the reason you're allowed to listen to Spotify’s music is because you pay them a monthly or annual amount. And as such, they're okay with you listening to their music.
But...You're only allowed to use and play their music for personal and non commercial uses. In other words, you are free to jam out to Odesza or Justin Bieber or RUFUS DU SOL (or whoever the newest pop trend is these days) as long as you’re not using it to profit.
When you have a personal subscription with Spotify or Apple Music or YouTube (etc.), it pertains specifically towards personal and non commercial use. You know, bumping music in your car, with friends, at your house, etc. But when it comes to using music for services and online classes that people pay you for? That’s another story, and something I’m seeing a lot of confusion around in the industry.
Many yoga & fitness professionals are operating online and conducting classes for money (commercial use.) This in and of itself is fine. However... the problem occurs when they're using musical platforms (like Spotify, for ex.) in their classes, when they only have a non commercial license. To summarize:
The legal issue at hand is that yoga and fitness professionals are operating online and using music outside of the license that they have.
So they're paying a monthly subscription for music which allows them to use the music for personal (non commercial) use, but now they're using it for commercial use.
This becomes a legal issue when either you (or your studio or your boss or whomever) receives an email from some form of commercial licensing agency. They say, “Hey, we see that you're playing this music for your online yoga classes. You actually don't have the legal rights to do that. So either stop right now, or pay us this amount for a license.”
And if they're really having a cranky day, they're going to say: “You have to pay for the license. Plus, you have to pay damages for having used our music in a license. We've suffered damages, because you didn't have this license all along. And as such, you have to pay us damages plus the amount for the license.” Not fun.
As a lawyer who has worked with hundreds of wellness professionals, I've received a bunch of these sorts of letters on behalf of my clients...again, it’s not fun.
I have good news! There is simple, practical and helpful information for you to address this issue and ensure you are at best legal practices.
The first question you just have to ask yourself is “Am I using this music for commercial purposes?” Ie, is it being used in commerce and/or in the functioning of my business? Are people paying me for yoga classes? And am I in return playing music that accompanies this?
If so, then typically, your Spotify or your Apple Music account will not count. And then you are breaking the licensing rules of the agreement.
The solution is to acquire commercial rights from a credible organization. Here are three good organizations I recommend:
Reach out to these companies and communicate the scope of your business and the type of music you’re looking for. Ask them what sort of music license is appropriate for your business in the way that you’re using the music (or plan to use it.) They will guide you through which license is appropriate and how to proceed.This process is similar to getting insurance for your business. Just as you can contact BeYogi and express, “Hey, I have a couple questions about my insurance plan. I want to make sure that I can do ABCD,” you’re going to do that for these music licensing companies. They will respond and explain what is covered and what is not.
If you are using music commercially that you didn’t acquire for commercial purposes, then please connect with ASCAP BMI, SESAC. There’s another great company called Epidemic Sound where you can get a flat fee for music that they have the license to for commercial purposes, and you can choose anything within that particular range.
So that's it. It's not the end of the world. It's something that seems really scary to a lot of our clients when they're like, “Oh my gosh, I got this letter that I have to pay,” or if they haven't been contacted, they've heard sort of a horror story from someone else.
The good news is you can take a few simple steps to ensure you are at best legal practices. Do you have any specific questions about this and your business? Feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m happy to get you squared away.
Interested in downloading a Yoga legal checklist to ensure you are at best legal practices for your business? Access it for free here.
About The Author
Cory Sterling is a lawyer, small business owner, group fitness instructor and yoga teacher. He wrote The Yoga Law Book and has served hundreds of clients in the health and fitness space all across the world, the majority of whom own or operate a fitness/health studio. He has presented at conferences around the world, teaching about the law in a FUN and practical way. All beYogi members get 10% off Conscious Counsel's Legal Starter Kit located in the member portal.