Showing Movies and TV Programs at Your Brewery May Require a License
This content was prepared for Brewers Association (BA) members by MPLC, an Affinity Partner of the BA. Learn more about this program and the benefits available for BA members here.
Located on the shores of Lake Anne in Reston, Virginia, the Lake Anne Brew House has become a staple of the local community. Lake Anne Brew House delivers impeccable beer, which has won no fewer than nine medals at the Virginia Brewers Guild Cup competitions since its opening in 2016. As with many other breweries, in addition to award-winning beer and outstanding food, Lake Anne Brew House provides entertainment, including lakeside concerts in the summer months.
When the pandemic hit, owners Jason and Melissa Romano realized that shoulder-to-shoulder concerts were no longer an option. That’s when they called MPLC (Motion Picture Licensing Corporation) to inquire about a public performance license for socially-distanced movie nights. “MPLC made movie licensing very easy,” said Romano, “and I have to say honestly, the customer service has been outstanding so far.”
Once they learned more about public performance and copyright compliance through MPLC, and later, the Brewers Association, they realized that a license is a good idea for any brewery with TVs in the tasting room. “Under the U.S. Copyright Act, showing film and television programs in a commercial establishment like a brewery, even just in the background, requires a license,” said Brian Novy, VP of Licensing at MPLC. “We were aware of music licensing requirements,” said Romano. “For better or for worse, the same rules apply to TV and film.”
Based in Los Angeles, MPLC is the only company that provides a blanket license, called the Umbrella License®, for the public performance of audiovisual works in bars and restaurants in the United States. Founded more than 30 years ago by former studio and Motion Picture Association (MPA) executives, MPLC now licenses hundreds of thousands of locations in more than 40 countries around the world.
The foundation of MPLC’s business rests on the U.S. Copyright Act. As with music, the producers of audiovisual works are entitled to be compensated for the public performance of their works. When televisions are playing in public spaces, it constitutes a public performance under the Copyright Act. “We work on behalf of more than 1,000 rights holders, including all the major Hollywood studios, to provide a simple and affordable public performance license,” said Novy. “Our royalties support entertainment industry jobs and the production of the movies and TV series that we all love.”
MPLC’s license covers the largest catalogue of film and television content available. It authorizes public performances from any legitimate source, including cable or satellite services, DVDs, or streaming. For example, an Umbrella License covers a restaurant playing television in the bar area. It typically would not cover live sports, although MPLC notes that live sporting events are often preceded or immediately followed by content that requires their license, which can create a liability risk if TVs are left on that channel.
MPLC’s license is related to similar licenses on the music side, issued by companies like BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. “One of the nice things about films and TV is that, unlike music where you might need three or more licenses, for film and television MPLC is the only blanket licensor,” said Novy.
A second kind of license is a title-by-title license, typically offered by Swank Motion Pictures. Unlike MPLC’s Umbrella License, a title-by-title license is limited to one defined title. However, it enables the licensee to publicly advertise a film and to charge admission, which is not allowed under an Umbrella License.
Failure to comply with the Copyright Act can result in serious financial consequences, ranging from $750 to $150,000 for each illegal exhibition, plus court costs and attorney fees. These can really add up. For example, a defendant in one case was required to pay $36,000 in damages and over $160,000 in attorney’s fees and costs for playing unlicensed music. A sports bar and kitchen in another case was sued for $1,050,000 for the playing of seven songs over the course of one night because its managers had ignored the attempts of performance rights organizations to provide the business with a public performance license.
Breweries can obtain licenses by contacting:
Dave Davis is currently President of the Americas at MPLC. Prior to joining MPLC, Dave spent fifteen years at major Hollywood studios, including 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and NBCUniversal, where he managed international film and television distribution to digital platforms, among other things. Dave began his career at Goldman Sachs. When not championing intellectual property rights, Dave enjoys cycling, playing his guitar (poorly) and travelling with his wife and two daughters.