Broadcasting, Licensing, Guide

ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and SoundExchange: What's the Difference?

In order to legally broadcast copyrighted material on your internet radio station, you must have stream licensing. Without it, you could be breaking the law. What is stream licensing and how do you obtain it? Let's talk about the various licensing agencies in the U.S.

To legally broadcast most copyrighted material in the U.S., you’ll need to secure a statutory license. Statutory licenses cover non-interactive broadcasts, where playlists are curated by the station. There are four main music licensing agencies within the United States: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and SoundExchange. (For information about the licensing agencies in Canada, click here.)

ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), and SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) are three different U.S. performance rights organizations (PROs) that collect and distribute royalties any time a musical composition (the music as you'd see it on paper, including the lyrics and notes) is performed publicly in a business establishment (such as the mall or a restaurant) or on a broadcast (via TV, radio, or internet). These organizations then take those license fees and pay the appropriate composers, songwriters, and publishers. If you plan on playing copyrighted music on your station, you’ll need at least one of these PRO licenses.

SoundExchange is a bit different though, as it collects and distributes digital performance royalties any time a recording is digitally transmitted in a public place, like on an internet radio station. These royalties are for what you actually hear. SoundExchange then pays the recording artists and musicians when their songs are played. In addition to one (or more) of the PROs above, you’ll need to secure a license with SoundExchange.

With each of these licensing agencies, you are able to obtain licensing directly from them. In this case, in addition to handling the fees, you'll be responsible for the royalty reporting that's required.

That said, managing the agreements and reporting to all of the agencies can often be confusing, daunting, and take up valuable resources and time. But, Live365 can help! We have a working relationship in place with ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and SoundExchange in the U.S., SOCAN and Re:Sound in Canada, and PPL and PRS for Music in the U.K., so your station’s stream licensing needs are covered!

All standard Live365 Broadcaster packages offer customers a one-stop service by providing bandwidth, broadcasting tools, and music licensing (for the U.S., Canada, and U.K.) all in one place! Interested in starting a station with us? Click here. Have questions? Contact us at

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended as legal advice. Please consult with qualified professionals if you have specific questions about copyrights and licensing.

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Article Image: Mark Solarski via Unsplash.

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About Sarah Osborne

  • Pennsylvania