BMI/ASCAP Licensing

CALLERLAB offers non-members the lowest prices on music licensing.  Signing up is easy: Just print and fill out the Alternate License form, attach your check, and mail it to the Home Office. You may also view and download other Membership Applications forms from the Membership Forms page.

What square dance activities are covered by the caller’s or cuer’s BMI and ASCAP license?

All square dance activities with the exception of state or national conventions are covered by the CALLERLAB agreements with BMI and ASCAP. This includes regular club dances, classes, workshops, special dances, weekends, hoedowns, jamborees, fun-nights, festivals, demonstrations, parades, nursing homes, shopping malls, county/state fairs, street dances, etc. The agreement covers square dancing, round dancing, line dancing, contra and traditional dancing. Country Western dancing (Texas Two-Step and other ‘couple’ dances) is covered provided the caller/cuer has purchased an optional CW license offered by CALLERLAB.

When Do I Need A License For Myself, Rather Than for A Club?

If you run dances or weekends of your own, you’ll need a license for yourself. Where can you get licensed? You have some options: Deal with the licensing organizations yourself, join CALLERLAB, or get a license through CALLERLAB. BMI & ASCAP aren’t set up to deal with individual callers, but they’ll license clubs for a fee per dance —if you buy a year’s worth of licenses in advance.

Joining CALLERLAB gives you both licenses, plus liability insurance, plus access to CALLERLAB’s support and education services. Or you can get a license from CALLERLAB without becoming a full member. As a Licensee Member, you pay just the BMI & ASCAP fees plus a small administrative charge! Being licensed thru CALLERLAB covers you when calling club dances & weekends, your own dances & weekends, and calling at all festivals except State and National Conventions. Those conventions must get their own licenses. You’re also covered if you do rounds or Country Western dances as part of your overall square-dance program.

Not all clubs belong to dancer federations, so there’s no good way for clubs to deal with BMI & ASCAP as a group. When the issue arose, club leaders got worried. BMI & ASCAP were threatening legal action, and the club leaders would be personally liable for hefty copyright penalties. The idea of paying $20,000 per song is pretty frightening! CALLERLAB’s deal with BMI & ASCAP solved the problem of license cost—but a club is only safe if every night’s caller has a license. So to protect themselves, clubs have started to ask all their callers to be licensed.

Anyone who performs or plays copyrighted music needs a license. Normally, the event’s organizer is responsible for obtaining the required licenses. For commercial concerts, that’s the promoter. For commercial trade shows, it’s the trade-show organizer or individual booth-holder. For square dances, it’s the dance organizer. Most dances are club-organized, so clubs are

Over the past 40 years, BMI and ASCAP have turned their sights to square dancing several times. But there was never an easy way for them to track down square dance clubs for licensing and enforcement. Then, in 1990, they discovered S/D publications, which made it easy to find clubs. They mailed out about 4000 contracts to individual clubs and callers. This made people realize their exposure, and caused much concern.

There was another problem: Clubs are small, but BMI & ASCAP are big. So BMI & ASCAP offered their standard deal: $22 each per dance, payable a year at a time in advance. For many clubs, that’d have been devastating–but small clubs had no way to negotiate for better terms. And new clubs would face an impossible up-front expense.

In an effort to avoid the unreasonable expense that BMI and ASCAP would impose on square dance clubs, CALLERLAB & ROUNDALAB approached them to negotiate a more satisfactory licensing arrangement. BMI & ASCAP agreed to allow licensing of members of these organizations rather than payment of the license fee by individual clubs–on the condition that all US members be licensed.

In the United States, there are three “performance-rights organizations”. They act as agents to collect royalties that are owed to composers for the performance of their music.

BMI – Broadcast Music, Inc represents mainly composers who work in the radio, television, and movie industries. ASCAP – The American Society of Composers, Artists, and Publishers is the oldest copyright licensing organization in the US. It represents such composers as Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. SESAC – SESAC started out representing gospel music and European composers; more recently, they’ve branched out into popular music.

It’s illegal to play a copyrighted song in public without the author’s permission— a “license.” It would be absurd for each author to license songs individually (imagine the paperwork!), so they formed BMI & ASCAP, who does it for them.