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What are performing rights societies?

The two most common performing rights societies are the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, known as ASCAP, and Broadcast Music, Inc., known as BMI. These societies keep track of the copyrights in certain musical works, acting as agents for the copyright owners. These societies can issue blanket licenses to all songs that are under their control. For example, a radio station will typically arrange for a blanket license with ASCAP and/or BMI, and can then play all of the songs those societies are responsible for, without having to license each individual song. The performing rights societies are paid a lump fee for the blanket license which they then divide among the individual copyright owners. ASCAP and BMI also monitor radio, television, and similar things to ensure that there are no public performances being made for which no license has been obtained.