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Do Jukeboxes Pay Music Licensing Fees?

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You may have seen a jukebox on TV, in a quaint diner, or a music store. A jukebox tends to provide a nostalgic experience, especially when it plays a song that you love or have fond memories around. It is clear that owners would need to purchase the jukebox to use it. Still, it only recently occurred to me that they might also have to pay music licensing fees to play the music inside.

Do jukebox owners pay music licensing fees? Music is intellectual property and there are a variety of laws that protect an artist’s interests. To be able to play music in a jukebox the owner will have to pay fees to the copyright owner of that music. Sometimes that is a one time fee while other times you pay per play of a song. 

Understand that music is intellectual property. The United States Copyright Law protects music rights and usage, which includes music played in a jukebox. Music copyright owners have the right to determine where and when their music is played. This means no one is allowed to give a public performance, whether live or recorded, of their music without their authorization. If they do, they would be breaking the law and could be fined.

A public performance is when music is played in a public establishment or any space with a substantial number of people who are not family, friends, or social acquaintances, like country clubs, fraternal organizations, etc.

Most jukeboxes are used in public or private places of business to create an inviting ambiance for their customers. Even though jukeboxes require money to play songs, the music is not owned by the jukebox owner.

The primary distinction is that you own a copy of the music, but not the music itself. This is why you need a performing rights agreement license to play jukebox music to follow the law. The music license lasts for a year, and fees are usually collected in March of each year.

For safety and convenience, many jukebox makers have partnered with a performing rights organization (PRO) to make paying fees easier.

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Which Jukeboxes Are You Required To License Music?

The first jukeboxes played only vinyl records. As different forms of music storage were created, jukeboxes were altered to accommodate these changes. Now, some jukeboxes play CDs, videos, and stream music. 

Not all jukeboxes can be registered with a jukebox licensing agreement. There are a few specifics to make one eligible for the license. If the jukebox:

  • Is used in a place of business that does not require a direct or indirect entry fee
  • Is used only as background music
  • Is only used by patrons who have to select a track from a list of titles
  • Operates on coins, tokens, currency, or something similar

Then it can be licensed by the Jukebox Licensing Organization (JLO).

Even though the JLO may not be able to register your jukebox, you will still need a license to play jukebox music in your establishment, since these works are copyrighted. In this case, there are two options open to you:

  1. Get a license from each performing rights organization, as each is responsible for different copyrighted music.
  2. Make direct contact with the music copyright holders.

Both options are more time consuming and costly than registering with the Jukebox Licensing Organization. So it is good to keep this in mind when purchasing a jukebox. 

Jukebox performances that are not covered with a jukebox licensing agreement are as follows:

  • Video jukebox
  • Jukeboxes in establishments that require an entry fee
  • Karaoke jukeboxes
  • Automated jukeboxes
  • Jukeboxes operated only by employees or entertainers
  • Used for advertisement, games, or other activities outside of playing music
  • Jukeboxes that are inaccessible to patrons
  • Streams or downloads music
  • Uses flash or hard drives to play recorded music

Why Should Jukebox Users Pay Licensing Fees?

Music requires hard work, dedication, and creativity. For musicians, songwriters, composers, and music publishers, music is the career that pays for their lifestyles. Copyright laws were created with professions like those in mind to protect the intellectual property of writers and musicians. 

The music license fees are used to pay royalties to the copyright owners. This provides an avenue for musicians to make a living and continue to make music. The laws have become more stringent now, especially in the wake of the internet and widespread music theft. So, even though there are digital jukeboxes that can stream music from the internet or other music streaming sites, they are still liable to pay jukebox licensing fees.

Music licensing organizations are the bridge between artists and their corporate commercial clients. It would be challenging for each musician to take note of where their music is being played and how much they should collect for each play. These organizations technically give jukebox owners’ permission to play copyrighted music openly.

How to Register For Music License

Each state or county has different guidelines and regulations to receive these music licenses. However, three leading performing rights organizations hold copyright agreements on behalf of musicians and writers for jukeboxes. These are:

  • BMI: Broadcast Music International
  • SESAC: Society of Stage Authors and Composers
  • ASCAP: The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers

These are the most significant organizations responsible for collecting music licensing fees on behalf of music copyright owners. JLO, the Jukebox Licensing Organization, is another music licensing entity that has relations with all three performing rights organizations. 

They lessen the administrative burden for commercial entities and music copyright owners by registering, collecting and paying copyright fees on behalf of each PRO. The JLO only keeps 5% of the total costs to maintain the administration and upkeep of their company and delivers the remaining 95% to each PRO to distribute to their copyright owners.

It is essential to register with all three performing rights organizations (PRO) since each has partnerships with different music copyright owners. The music license allows you to play all forms of American music and most music from the world as well. Without the license, you will be breaking copyright law and risk being fined. 

It is common for representatives from a PRO to discreetly visit local establishments and document the title of each song played and how many times each was played. You will then be fined approximately $750 to $150,000 per song that was played. 

What Benefits Do Jukeboxes Provide?

Music always has the power to change the atmosphere in a room. While that attribute is mostly good, there are times when it just isn’t. I know you’ve been to a nice restaurant or bar before, and wished you could change the music. Jukeboxes allow patrons the freedom to play their choice of music. 

Of course, there are a limited number of songs available in traditional jukeboxes, so you can only play your favorite from what is provided. However, it is still better than listening to a song you’d rather not hear, on repeat.

Some of the more modern jukeboxes allow you to choose from virtually any song rather than being confined to what media is in that jukeboxes. These modern jukeboxes are much more popular than having one with a limited selection. 

The Origin of the Jukebox

Before jukeboxes there were phonographs which introduced a new way to pay for music. Created in 1877 by Thomas Edison, phonographs lead the way for the first jukebox in 1889. 

Jukeboxes are usually coin-operated, but now some models accept debit and/or credit cards, or tokens. The machine was first referred to as “nickel in the slot” and in the 1930s renamed to the jukebox. It is partially automated and allows patrons to choose a song from pre-selected titles.

Approximately 750,000 jukeboxes were in use across America at the height of the machine’s popularity. This figure dropped in the 1970s and 1980s but rose after the invention of CDs. There are still jukeboxes being used in the USA but they are seen far less often than they used to be. 

Want to see a classic jukebox in action? Check out the video below that shows a classic 1960s jukebox being used. 


Jukeboxes are a huge piece of music history, especially in the United States. Jukeboxes are still in use in many different bars, clubs, and retro themed stores or restaurants. 

If you have a jukebox or want to put one in your business you do have to pay music licensing fees every time that a song is played. This process has been made a lot easier through the JLO (Jukebox Licensing Organization) but it is something that you need to make sure you are doing properly. 

There are giant fines for breaking copyright laws and those can quickly drive you out of business if you are using a jukebox and not doing the licensing process correctly.