Music on Hold - Is your legal?

Music-on-hold (MoH) has been around so long that it has almost become a given that when you place your callers on hold they should hear something other than silence. If nothing else it gives the caller the sense that they haven’t been disconnected while they wait.

Many businesses have MoH. It’s easy to add to many telephone systems, just plug a music source to the jack marked music. Believe it or not many of the common sources that are plugged into that jack are not legal to use.

When the technician installed your system, he may have asked you if you wanted Music on Hold. You may not have even thought about it until the question was asked. The usual response is ‘Yes, that’s a good idea’. Music on Hold, while being simple to add, the legal aspects are far from simple and need to be considered at this point. Many technicians and sales persons aren’t aware of the legal issues involved. They are just trying to satisfy their clients and the next thing you know you are asked what radio station you want to play.

Radio stations are not legal to be put on MoH systems. There are copyright issues involved. They have the right to broadcast the music, but not the rebroadcast rights. When you put music from a radio onto your telephone system you are rebroadcasting the station. But what about Talk Radio? The radio station and on-air talent has the rights of rebroadcast and unless you have gotten permission from them it too can’t be used.

Then next common source is to use digital music, a CD or MP3. This is just as illegal as the radio station for many of the same reasons. But you may be saying, I purchased the CD can’t I use it as I please? When you purchased the CD, you only own a copy of the CD not the rights to the music on it.

The rights you do have are called private performance rights. When you put the music onto your on hold system this is classified as a Public Performance. Songwriters, composers and publishers under the copyright laws have exclusive right of public performance and any public performance requires permission.

You can purchase those rights. There are three music industry organizations where you can go to purchase rights for Music to be put on hold. Those are ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) and SESAC originally named the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers. For a fee you can use music that these organization license for rebroadcast.

The Copyright laws cover music rights and many times they can be confusing. Additional information on music broadcast rights can be found at;

BMI has information about licensing at

And ASACP has one dealing with Radio Licensing at


The information about music rights not only applies to Music on Hold, but also if you use background music in the office through a centralized system.

Many times you may have gotten something made for your MoH that has advertising for your company. This is a good use for MoH, but when having this created you need to be certain that the producer has gotten the rights to all of their material.

There are also royalty-free sources of music, but the agreement should be check to be certain that it can be used in MoH systems.

What can happen? Many businesses may continue to use one of these sources long after they have learned that they are not legal. They are thinking that they will never be caught. On that all I can say is that BMI is out there looking and have imposed fines of many of thousand of dollars to businesses that have used their unlicensed music.

Businesses can also subscribe to music services such as "Music Choice", "DMX" or "Muzak". Since these services have bulk license agreements they may be able to offer a lower expense option.

There aren’t any doubts that Music on hold has many benefits including;

• Assuring the caller that they are still connected

• Entertain the caller, sometimes giving them the impression they are on hold a shorter time than actuality

• Inform the caller.

You just need to be aware and understand your legal rights in using it.

© 2006-2007 Steven G. Atkinson – All rights reserved


Steven G. Atkinson is a Technology Consultant based on Maryland's Eastern Shore. His goals are to assist the Small Business Owner and Office Manager in getting the correct technology for their business needs. He has written and self-published a book - Technology Tips for Small Business - to assist small businesses to better understand their technology. Technology Tips for Small Business - Website for the Book

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