Background Music



The basics


What’s copyright?

When someone creates a piece of music (or a piece of text, a graphic, a photo, painting, a film or anything else that is protected under copyright laws), a whole system of legal rights and obligations comes into play. These rights and obligations outline what someone can and can't do with the material.

Copyright law provides an incentive for creators to continue creating. Copyright Law in Australia is governed by the Copyright Act 1968 (the Act), and the intention of the Act is to protect copyrighted works  from  being  used  without  the  permission of  the  owner  and  to  provide  an economic incentive to artists to produce new material.


Who owns the copyright in a piece of music?

There is generally more than one copyright owner in any given track. For instance:

  • The composer who wrote the music owns copyright in the musical works.
  • The maker of the sound recording (typically a record company) owns copyright in the sound recording.
  • Additionally, the lyricist who wrote the lyrics owns copyright in the literary works.  The artist who performed the music may own the copyright in a sound recording of their live performance.


What rights do the copyright owners have?

The copyright owners (i.e. the owner of the work and the owner of the recording respectively) have a number of exclusive rights, including the right to:

  • Make copies of the tracks;
  • Perform music in public (eg by playing the tracks in hotel, café or retail stores); and
  • Communicate the tracks to the public.


I bought legitimate digital music. Can I make copy the music onto multiple devices for use in my café, restaurant, hotel or retail store?

The purchase of a digital music file gives you a set of rights, including to play it privately or to copy the file from your computer to a device. However, copying the music onto multiple devices, without the permission of all relevant copyright owners, may be an infringement of copyright except in very limited circumstances.


I bought a legitimate CD. Can I make copies for use in my café, restaurant, hotel or retail store?

The purchase of a CD gives you the right to own the physical disc, to play it privately, and to pass on the same physical disc to another person. This means that copying the music from a CD including onto an iPod, without the permission of all relevant copyright owners, is an infringement of copyright except in very limited circumstances. The Copyright Act allow you to “format shift” music for personal use, for example, to copy from CD format to MP3 format in certain limited situations. However, this does not extend to use of the music in a café, restaurant or retail store.

If you want to copy your legitimate CDs onto an iPod or onto other CDs to play as background music in a commercial setting, you must get:

  • A  licence  from  the  relevant  record  company  for  the  reproduction of  the  sound recording (contact the Licensing Department of the relevant record company).  ARIA and PPCA offer “blanket” licences for these purposes; and
  • A licence from AMCOS for the reproduction of the music.  Generally, AMCOS will offer a “blanket”  licence  which  allows  you to be covered for all  reproduction  of  musical and literary works for certain purposes.


Can I download music from the internet and play it in my café?

The basic principle is that you cannot copy or distribute music including from the internet without the permission of all relevant copyright owners. There are a number of legitimate download sites in Australia which are listed at

If you legitimately buy music from iTunes or other legal online distributors you should check their relevant  terms  and  conditions to  make  sure  that  you  are  licensed  for  the  relevant  purpose, including to use as background music in a café or retail store.


What about downloading music through file-sharing?

Unless authorised, the vast bulk of P2P 'file sharing' is considered unauthorised copying and transmission of copyright material. This activity hurts sales of music and the livelihoods of people in the business including your favourite artists.


What if I download music to use in my café from a site overseas where the law might be different?

Internet activities of this sort typically involve acts of copying, transmission, or distribution in both the “receiving and sending” countries and laws of each will apply. Be aware that if you download music files to your PC located in Australia, without the copyright owners' permission, you are committing an infringement of copyright under Australian law.


Do I need any licences to play legitimately purchased music in my café, restaurant or shop?

If you are playing music on your premises, you may require a public performance licence. Blanket public performance licences can be acquired from OneMusic Australia. OneMusic Australia is a joint initiative by Australia's music copyright collecting societies - APRA AMCOS and PPCA. You should also make sure you are using licensed music from legitimate sources.


Can I play music from a streaming service in my commercial premises?

If you are using a streaming service, you may require a public performance licence. You can contact OneMusic Australia to enquire about blanket public performance licences. MRA also recommends that you also check with the service supplier to ensure that their terms and conditions allow you to play those recordings in public, particularly in a commercial/business context.


What are the consequences?

Penalties for copyright infringement range from injunctions, damages and costs through to fines of up to $60,500 for individuals and up to $302,500 for corporations for each infringement and/or up to 5 years imprisonment per offence. Police can also issue on-the-spot fines of $1320 per offence and seize any pirate product.


Need more information?

(02) 8569 1144
Music Rights Australia (02) 8569 1177
OneMusic Australia 1300 162 162