Over To You: Can I Legally DJ In Public With Digital Music?

legal downloads is killing piracy

We generally all agree that we should be buying our music, not stealing it - but even then, it's not clear whether DJs are doing anything wrong by performing that music in public, especially when it comes to digital downloads.

Digital DJ Tips reader Zoltan writes: "I am involved in artist management and booking activities in Hungary, mainly club related stuff. We are in somewhat of a dispute with the local DJ association whether or not music legally purchased at digital stores like Beatport, iTunes etc can or cannot be used for commercial DJing. Beatport's terms and conditions clearly state that downloads may only be used for "your own personal, non-commercial use" - now, DJing is commercial use isn't it? Really curious to see what is your and the community's standing on this issue."

Digital DJ Tips says:

Really great question, Zoltan. Even since home taping to cassettes years ago, there has been a gap between what people actually "do" with purchased recorded music and what the law says. Back then, it was tolerated to make taped copies of your music, but if you got caught selling it, that's when you'd be prosecuted. Both were actually illegal in most countries (but not all). So fast-forward to now. Beatport is plainly selling to DJs who will perform the music. I think "commercial use" means mixing and selling that music, not playing it to an audience. Those small print disclaimers may just be be the lawyers making sure the company's back is covered, or a condition of the record label licence, but obviously for a DJ site, they're in practical terms ridiculous.

Anyway, in most countries, premises need to be licensed in order to allow music to be performed in public in them. As long as you're DJing in a licensed venue, you should be OK, wherever the music came from (but mobile DJs should definitely look into the situation in their own countries with regards to playing in non-licensed venues). However, there are draconic laws in some places that say things like "as soon as you move your music to a different format to play it, you need a personal licence".

To me this is a classic case of technology racing ahead of the law, and I've never heard of anyone being prosecuted for ripping a CD to hard drive and then DJing with DJ software using that file, to give one example of where such laws would apply.Also, look at Deezer in DJ Player, or Grooveshark in Virtual DJ. Two examples of streaming music services right there inside DJ apps!

Better to ask for forgiveness than permission?

Bottom line: I's say be pragmatic and practical. You've bought the music. The premises you DJ in should already have a licence. DJs are often given promo music for free anyway, record pools are there to serve DJs music to play in public - it's such a big, wish-washy grey area that my personal view would be: Pay for your music and from there on, don't worry about it. The people who made the music would in nine times out of ten want you to play that music out anyway, as it's promoting it on their behalf.

However, I'm no lawyer, and also I don't have much knowledge outside of the UK and to a certain extent the US - so this is where I'd like to ask our readers to help. Espeically if you've investigated this, or you're a lawyer with some actual facts in this area (and especially if you know the situation in Hungary to help Zoltan!) - please let us know your thoughts in the comments.

So - over to you! Can you shed some more light on this matter? What's your view on licensing of digital music for public performance? Have you ever run foul of the authorities on this one? Please share your thoughts below!

Get access to all our free DJ training!

Join over 150,000 Digital DJ Tips members to get exclusive free DJ training videos, articles & resources plus twice-weekly emails with the best of our tutorials, reviews and DJ news. It’s free, and you can unsubscribe at any time!


  1. Sidihodo says:

    About music being bought legally. Yes you can dj with it and is not a commercial use. The music you buy u cant sell copies to others. Cant use it on comercials. By internatiinal law about artist right the music cant be served as your production. You as dj are a performer and the music it is bought for that intention. Radios buy music the same way you buy and they trasmit it as you do. And no extra fee about it. The term of comercial use means not reproduce it and sell it to others. I am albanian in fact and legisltion differs. But these are general terms. And yes i am a lawyer

    • Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

      This may be true where you are, but here (Holland), ANYBODY playing music in a public place (Radiostations, discotheques, mobile DJ's, cover bands, but also businesses and even "hold" music on telephones) needs to pay a fee to an organisation that is there specially for that purpose. The amount of fee you have to pay depends on the kind of venue, wether or not you are making money playing it (radiostations do, companies usually don't) and how much music you play and to what size audience.

      So, most definitely an extra fee for public playing of music in any way, shape or form.


      • Chuck,

        Same is true in the US. Any public use of music here requires ASCAP and other licensing. This includes stores or event aerobics instructors that want to play CDs. I even knew of a woman who owned a mini golf course that had to buy licensing.

        If you are a store you can get around it by playing the radio since the radio station has the license. Big retail chains such as GAP often create their own compilations CDs and play them in store to get around the fee.

        Radio stations not only pay licensing fees but also royalties on the tracks they play. All tracks are supposed to get reported through soundscan.

        In the end it's such a scam cause none of the artists I support get any money.

  2. If I'm not mistaking Beatport also points to the local country law.
    We already had major discussions about this in Belgium.
    In short:
    You may use beatport/iTunes purchased tracks for public events if they are on the medium which u original downloaded the file to.
    So if you download on your laptop and copy to USB stick than your are violating the law. But who can prove what is the original and what is the copy. In general if you show the invoices of your purchased downloads it's ok.
    HOW EVER: This is not the case for ripped (vinyl, cd) files or donwload files u put on a self created cd.
    That are illegal copies. Belgian law forbids copying for commercial reasons (being non-family use). So if u put your downloaded files on a CD or you have ripped from vinyl/cd files on your laptop, you are violating the law.
    For resolving this, Unisono (common organisation for sabam and distributor rights) has a so called "DJ license" which gives you an authorisation to copy your originals to any other medium you want for public use solely by your self.
    its about €215

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      Ah, I knew money was going to come into the issue at some point. At this point, it just makes sense to file an LLC for your DJ name and start charging all of the costs of DJing to the company and run all the profits through it as well. We recognize it as a scam, but since the powers that be want to scam the little guy out of their money, why not scam back?

  3. I did some digging around on the legality of playing streamed content. the lengthy T&Cs on most streaming sites make you glaze over quickly! However, in general Spotify, Deezer and Rara all have a similar stance. Fine for home, personal use but not at public/paid venues.

    I also checked with PRS. Again, lengthy terminology but in summary; if you need a PRS license (eg club, bar) where you have paying public or are broadcasting then you can't use the streaming services. However, if you're playing at a private party, for invited guests (eg wedding, house party, birthday party) where folk aren't paying to get in and its in a booked private room / venue then it looks like you can use them.

    Hope that clears up the use of streamed music.

  4. In Germany the GEMA is working on that stuff.
    Everyone has to pay - online radios, clubs & even the supermarket with a radio playing in the background.
    Clubs pay a lot of money, 30% extra if they used laptops & self-burned CDs / external drives. Only original CDs & vinyl can avoid that 30% - but most club owners pay this for every party.

    It doesnt matter where your music is coming from - rip from original CD, downloaded mp3 (legal & illegal - yes, some DJs use illegal files) vinyl rip - you pay for public stuff.
    We are not happy with this and they try to redesign the whole system. Maybe every DJ will pay 0,13€ per track & year (except original CD/Vinyl & original downloaded mp3) - every copy need a licence (every copy that is ready to be played public, not your safety copy at home). Pretty stupid, but we will see..

    Just look how this works in your country.

    P.S. Sorry for my bad english...

  5. Sidihodo says:

    Also in Albania bars pay an anual fee for author rights. If there have to be paid about music used on venues where people pay to listen music these is a bar owner responsability not the dj. Dj is paid about his performance. I agree that dj need a license to use their profession and pay fees for every gig that they do. But these does not effect the topic. Electronic or original cd or vinyl is just the format of legal selling from the discographig houses. I dont know the legislation in other countries but i am talking about civil law llogic. If the laws mentioned are true i think that there has not been a good work done by goverment. The process of writing or formulating a law has to be done by counsulting the groups of iterests. I dont know if there is any Dj asissiaction that work on halping to solve and halp legally the dj

  6. Robert Wulfman says:


    seriously, that's a killer name

  7. Every country has different law.

    In Hungary, the DJ can play from any source, even pirated tracks. Source doesn't matter, because if you play publicly, you must pay a fee before every event for the MAHASZ (Association of Hungarian Record Companies), or a yearly fee for the DJ Szövetség (DJ Association).

    So if a foreign DJ comes to Hungary, the event's organiser must pay for MAHASZ (because he obviously will not join the hungarian DJ Association).

  8. Stavros says:

    It's peculiar that it's different from country to country even within the EU. In Greece, I am 95% sure that it is ok, as long as the venue has a music license and has paid the annual "royalties license", not sure about the exact translation.

    • Dont forget though that AEPI (gr. ΑΕΠΙ) is a PRIVATE institution-company, colecting these "royalties" based on price tags they themselves define with no federal control whatsoever and Im quite sure in the case of clubbing ABSOLUTELY noe of the money collected ever reach to the hands of the labels and producers of said tracks. The money end up in their big fat pockets together with a few artists (like Dalaras) who keep up supporting this ridicule.
      Its a big scandal, already documented and thoroughly presented in greek TV (search Youtube: αεπι το κουτι της πανδωρας) and of course, nothing has changed over the years.
      Its all a fiasco! 😉

  9. Sidihodo says:

    I differs from country to country. In Albania dj use bought music becouse of the quality. Not in one. Venue has been any controll about piracy. Just tax from the venues to pay a anually about author rights. But the law is strict. But there has to be done an unification of laws about these mater

  10. Dj Andrea Negri says:

    The italian regulations in this area are very simlar to the ones in Belgium (first reply above).
    When I go to a gig I always take my recepeis with me and I don't "move" music from the computer where I bought them.

  11. In Holland/the Netherlands we have Buma/Stemra. Every club, pub or other public place were music will be played must pay a yearly fee to that organisation. And it depends how big the room is and how much people come over there. Every party organisation must pay them for every event, if the event is happining in a place were no fee have been paid. Sorry for my bad english.

  12. Michael L says:

    It's a similar deal here in Canada. Either the venue owner or the person renting a venue for a DJ event is required to pay a fee to SOCAN.

  13. In the US, there is a colossal misunderstanding of copyright laws, and most people have a completely skewed understanding of "fair use." Whether something is commercial or not commercial is largely irrelevant. Public exhibition - one of the key features that "fair use" proponents like to skip over - is illegal whether this is at a sold-out stadium or a friendly block party for 50 people. In the latter case, it's just largely understood that no actual harm is intended.

    As for music liecenses at venues, keep in mind that there are multiple organizations for this in the US alone (eg ASCAP) and none cover all music. And, the fees can be pricey. Mashups are that sort of grey area in which you are technically transforming it into something else. In the US, it would be up to a judge to decide if the changes were significant enough.

    And Phil, yes, people should worry about it. It cost this guy $32k for making a chiptune cover of Kind of Blue: http://waxy.org/2011/06/kind_of_screwed/

    Ultimately, the point I'm trying to make is that being fully 100% covered is unlikely, unless you get written permission from every artist or buy something like an ASCAP license and only choose music from that library. Most DJ performances outside of professional event companies, are illegal in some way, but most artists are both aware and accepting of this.

    Just don't be stupid about it. No one's going to bug you about it at a small club, and plenty of artists love the idea of being remixed, but if you're making bank off your remixes of Kanye West...I bet that's one guy who just might try taking you to court.

    • Glen carter says:

      Here in Canada from What I read, the venue needs a licence for events where music will be played, and also the DJ must display a Digital Licence, if using digital files as a medium. Costs are $50.00 for a 30 day period and 350.00 per year, for the digital licence.

  14. In Finland you have to buy a license from local copyright management organizations. It was from 300EUR to 1000EUR depending on how much music you wanted to carry with you, and every DJ who wanted to play digital music/burned custom cd's had to pay it every year.

    But they recently did something good -- it's now "only" ~210EUR per year and no limitations on how much music you want to keep on your HDD. And now it's either the club or the DJ who pays it, so the DJ doesn't have to pay it if doesn't want to. (then he can't play in clubs who haven't paid it though)

  15. sammsousa says:

    i have a very important question about this!!! i actually wanted to ask this on the forum, but i couldnt! what makes it ''legal'' to play a beatport tune (or traxsource or whatever) is that you get a bill! wich shows that you actually bought the record! right?! But what about those unreleased productions and edits you get on soundcloud ? are those legal to play ?

    • Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

      A bill just shows you bought the track. Actually what you bought is the RIGHT to play the track (for private, non commercial use, yada yada yada).

      As long as a track contains material by another artist and that artist has not stated soecifically that it can be used in any other way, pretty much you are not allowed to play it in public, unless you pay fees through the relevant agencies (here Buma/Stemra).


  16. DJ Rinzler says:

    I plan on DJing graduation parties this summer in the US. I'm a new DJ, so I'm not going to charge any customer a single cent. That being said, do I need any sort of license to play in a backyard graduation party?

  17. NoFuture says:


    Someone know about legal term in Switzerland because I never heard about that in Geneva.

  18. I'm a paralegal in the US and deal with this stuff every day.

    Most people here in this thread are confusing public performance fee's with mechanical usage of a song.

    Public performance fee's are paid by the venue no mater where you get your music. In the UK, that is PPL, AVLA in Canada, ASCAP/BMI/SESAC in the USA. In the USA, if it's a private social event (birthday party or wedding for example) ASAP/BMI/SESAC has gone on record saying they will not enforce public performance fee's in those instances, even though technically you need to have it.

    But, that has nothing to with where the DJ purchases their music. So...

    It should be obvious to everyone duplicating music is illegal in every country. That also means selling it or even giving it away including changing it or compiling it on in any kinds of recorded mix. Making a Remixing & Mix tapes then selling it or giving it to someone is no question illegal.

    BUT, what retailers like iTunes, Beatport, and Amazon are at the mercy of what the record labels tell them they can use their music for in their contracts.

    It's interesting that while iTunes has gone out of their way to say public performance is illegal, Beatport says simply "commercial use" which is very broad term. It could be they meant that just to reenforce the fact of not duplicating their music. It is unclear what they mean.

    However, there are several companies that specialize in providing music that is specifically licensed for public performance. In the USA, Promo Only is probably the most well known and do music videos also. In Canada, Promo Only and ERG are the big players, and in the Europe, Master mix, CD Pool are the big players but do not provide music videos,while Promo Only only provides music videos there. Those companies are completely legal for public performance.

    However, as long as you get your music from a real legal source, and aren't selling or giving away your edits, remixes or mix tapes, you have nothing to worry about.

  19. All the public parties involve a fee that the promoter pays to the local copyright collecting society (SACEM in France, SABAM in Belgium, PRS in the UK,...)

  20. Hi ,
    here in the Uk I believe if you are using CD's to DJ at a venue the cost to perform in public is included in the disc , the complications start when you make a copy to mp3 or download files directly to your hard rive or use ANY type of digital formatt. A couple of years ago the laws changed and mobe DJ' s and club DJ's now need a Pro-dub licence . Basically you cannot rely on venues music licence and at a cost of around £250-£300 a year ( depending on your yearly purchase of files) you are covered at all venues and public places . The thing is why bother as the roaming representatives from pro-dub are looking for a needle in a haystack trying to catch illegal users and for every DJ caught and fined there are probably a 100 new guys coming up . I am happy to pay for all my music files and I think that labels and the industry should be looking at illegal downloads at the source , not the DJ's like myself who pay for Every track .

  21. Everyone of us must act according to the laws of their own countries, as the law enforcement may vary. Even in Europe (where i live in one of the State members...), laws are different, supposed that there should be an equal criteria applied. So (as an example), in Spain, it's legal personal use when you buy it and make a personal use listening to it in your iPod, iphone or PC, but not for commercial use. That is: nor to sell it or to obtain economic profitability out of them (thus, Djing in a gig is completely illegal if you don't pay). There's a national society (SGAE) that cares that everybody (that is: bars, pubs, discos, even wedding DJs) pays a fee for performing music (there are agents that every night visit places requiring the license). Settling the fee varies, and may go from m2 of the pub, to people's affluence, or even both combined. A wedding gig may cost around 250e (that should be paid by who ever contracts you...).

    As an example, hairdressers must pay for having the radio on for their customers (ridiculous to my point of view if i may add...): you are unable to play music in public without paying to the author's society (even the radio!!). Hope this info serves to give you a perspective among this issue

  22. Here's my two cents. In the US, some agent or whatever may ask whomever for a license. Yet, if anyone asks a DJ can they look at their equipment, you can say no! Yea, I know it's off subject. Still, you guys brought up law.

  23. I have actually been wondering this for a while I will often upload my DJ mixes to soundcloud after a live performance or if I DJ a party, so friends or "fans" (I like to think I have some) that couldn't see me live can listen after the fact. Is it copy right infringement if I upload a once live mix to the internet, I purchase almost all of my music from Beatport, and don't allow people to download the mix. I'm not claiming any of the individual tracks are mine same as a live performance, and I supply a track list giving credit to the original artist.

  24. in germany the performance rights/publishing organization gema
    actually forces the djs to pay a flat fee even for digital copies that have been bought already after they have been copied once.
    Its a super weird and oldschool model of thinking ..
    if you´re in germany protest against it - this model will force ALOT of clubs to shut down. Here´s an english article about it:

  25. DJ CHUBS says:

    I want to make one point clear, Government are putting this fees and selling so call license to Djs who play music.

    How do they know which artist the moneys go too, The artist themselves never get the money royalties for djs paying to play their tracks. Will the government in Europe give royalties to an artist from the Caribbean is a German DJ play soca music from Trinidad. That is just a money making thing no matter what laws are in place.

    Governments are selling what is not theirs by making djs pay so call fees for playing artist music.

  26. PRS for Music, collect fees around the Caribbean and never pay much if anything to the caribbean artists. The last thing they want to do is campaign for membership because it would mean paying out fees. Its a Colonial money grab by a bunch of commissioned sales people from Nations that cant defend their people because of International treaties.

    and given the color of the caribbean nations, I think there is another issue at play.
    PRS for Music will not divulge what they collect or what they pay out to artists in this region. The radio station fees they try to collect are at least 100 times more than they charge a London station, go figure.
    Colonialism is still alive today.

  27. Guys, if I may...
    As an artist who works on DAWs I always consider one principal question : is the loop that I work on "personal" enough ? Am I making my own sound or what ? I mean, there is still this solution, to not use the sounds as they come but as you want you to sound like. After dozens of audio treatment I can assure you no one can claim where does one sample come from. That's exactly what makes your sound different, how you treat it with audio effects and with adding some other sounds on

  28. Ricardo M says:

    Since Every Country Has its own Rules/Laws..... Where can get International DJ Licence to perform anywhere around the world?

  29. Hi my pp, my brothers, my djs.

    I will right about Slovakia, wich is next to Hungary. Every nightclub has to have a licence for year. Dj must have his own licence too, which dose not make sence. We have 2 diffrent companies. SOZA for international artist and SLOVGRAM for Slovakian artists. The fee from SOZA is 240 eur pre year for dj. And licence includs that, you play from the work copy of original track. Which means, if you have all original tracks and you play it from original source ex. Computer, than you dont need to pay for licence.

Have Your Say