A new music licensing agreement has been reached between the music and meeting industries, simplifying the reporting process and reducing costs for associations. Industry organizations--Meeting Professionals International (MPI), American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), and the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA)--all collaborated in negotiations with Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI).

Retroactive to January 1, 1997, the new agreement halves the rate for live performances at meetings and conventions: Where live or recorded music is played, rates will be five cents per attendee, with a cap not to exceed the event's total registration. That means if there are 1,000 attendees at your meeting, your maximum charge will be $50, even if you play music at multiple events. Those rates are set through the year 2000.The minimum rate for a licensing contract has been decreased from $175 to $100. The annual reporting and payment form has been simplified, and fits on a postcard.

Planners will no longer have to worry about what music they can use and when they need additional licenses. Every licensee will receive a CD-ROM catalog listing all BMI licensed music. The CD-ROM will be updated quarterly; for weekly updates, planners can check BMI's Web site (http://bmi.com).

"In the past, most meeting managers executed license agreements with both BMI and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), because they had difficulty determining the menu of music that hired talent would play. These licenses represented a considerable financial burden," points out Bill Myers, PCMA COO. "With the CD-ROM, they can now select titles and only buy one license. This represents a victory for meeting managers."

The new BMI agreement is separate from the 1990 meeting industry agreement with ASCAP. "ASCAP is another country to be heard from," quips Jonathan Howe, attorney with Howe & Hutton, Ltd. in Washington, DC, who represented MPI in the BMI negotiations.

While no negotiations are in the works, Myers hopes that negotiations with ASCAP will take place in the near future. "I believe it is in the best interests of the industry," Myers says, "to have everyone participate in a win/win agreement for PCMA and the other organizations, and for the creative people who copyright these songs."

The International Association for Exposition Management (IAEM) was not a party in the recent negotiations, and the BMI agreement does not address the major sore spot for tradeshow organizers--they are still held liable if an exhibitor plays music without a license.

"While we wish ASAE and the others well, we operate in a related but different industry," says Steven Hacker, CAE, president of IAEM. "You can't equate the dynamics of a meeting or convention of 2,000 people with an exhibition that might involve more than 50,000 people. When you apply the five cents per attendee, and the issue of vicarious liability, it becomes unreasonably expensive."

Currently, IAEM has no agreement with BMI; however, Hacker has recently received an invitation from them to sit down and talk. But Hacker says he's been talking to both ASCAP and BMI for the last five years, and he is not optimistic about reaching an agreement. Any agreement, he stresses, must set aside vicarious liability. "Show organizers have said very clearly they don't want to be the music police," Hacker says. "Whoever uses the music should be the party responsible for paying. The logic is so clear and pure that one has to really wonder what the problem is."

IAEM, ASAE, and other associations are also working on resolving the liability issue by pushing a music licensing reform bill (H.R. 789). In addition to vicarious liability, another important issue that would be redressed with the bill's passage is the law requiring that all music licensing dispute resolution must take place in New York. "You have to really look at your bottom line, and pick up and head to New York to even attempt to make your point," says Jim Clarke, ASAE vice president of government affairs. "It's an antiquated law. We believe disagreements should be adjudicated across the country." The bill now has about 180 cosponsors.