Understanding Music Copyright for Dance

It’s critical to understand how music copyright works for dance organizations.

All popular music is protected by one of two performance rights organizations–Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) or American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). 

BMI and ASCAP keep watch on music played in public or used in public performances in order to protect their members. Those who use the protected songs, such as performance companies, studios, and venues, must pay a fee. BMI and ASCAP collect those royalty fees on behalf of their respective members (the copyright owners) and ensure they are compensated properly.

Things to watch out for with music copyright and dance performance companies, studios, and venues

  • Forgetting to pay your fees to ASCAP or BMI
  • Waiting until the last minute. They will not hasten their review of your request, even if your performance is soon approaching!
  • Listing dancers as “co-collaborators.” This may cause confusion regarding the legal ownership of the work. It is important to consult with a lawyer if you are unsure how to credit your dancers.


Here are a few key definitions of music copyright terms:

Music clearance: the process of obtaining the legal right to use a protected musical property in the way of a composition and recording.

Fair Use: a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.

Royalties: payments that buy the right to use someone else’s property.

Performance Rights Organization: provides intermediary functions, particularly collection of royalties, between copyright holders and parties who wish to use copyrighted works publicly in locations such as shopping and dining venues.


There are many resources available, to help you understand how music copyright works for dance organizations.

Dance/USA published a series of expertly written articles dedicated to music licensing, copyrights, and fair use for dance works. Here’s what each of them cover:



We found this recent article to be helpful from the musician or copyright owner’s perspective: https://blog.groover.co/en/tips/all-you-need-to-know-about-royalties/


Pentacle remains dedicated to continuing to provide a high level of support to artists during these extraordinary circumstances. Alongside many other key and respected organizations in the field, we have begun accumulating and curating resources for artists and organizations experiencing income loss and other troubles as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Find our list of resources here.

NEXTSTEPS | 12.23.21


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