Licensing FAQs

What are SOCAN licences?

SOCAN licences give you the freedom to play any music you want in your business, legally, ethically, and easily. Without SOCAN, Canadian businesses would have to get permission from every composer, songwriter, lyricist, and publisher of every musical work they intend to use. This permission is not granted when you buy music (CDs, MP3s, music services, etc.) – this only allows you to play the music in a private (ie. non-business related) setting. Similarly, when you hire musicians to play music, the fees you pay go to the performers, not the creators of the songs they perform. Even if the performers are the creators of a song, they need to be compensated for these separate efforts – music creation and music performance. SOCAN operates in accordance with tariffs certified by the Copyright Board of Canada. SOCAN licences cover more than 20 different tariffs that accommodate different uses of music. As a not-for-profit organization, SOCAN put 86 cents of every dollar it collected in 2010 through licence fees into the pockets of music creators and publishers; the rest was used to run the organization, as approved by its Board of Directors.

How do I know SOCAN is legitimate?

The performing right that SOCAN administers on behalf of creators of musical works and their publishers is a right granted under Canada's Copyright Act. The Copyright Board of Canada certifies SOCAN's tariffs, so it too can verify SOCAN's role. In addition, many industry associations and organizations that represent businesses can also provide some background about SOCAN. Also, your legal counsel can provide you verification of SOCAN’s role.

What is a performing right?

It is the right to perform musical works in public or to communicate them to the public by telecommunication. SOCAN's members have assigned this right to SOCAN to administer (i.e. collect and distribute royalties) on their behalf. Tariffs for performing rights are set by the Copyright Board of Canada. SOCAN fees generally work out to mere fractions of a penny per song.

Why do I need a SOCAN licence?

When a business uses music, it is adding value to its business through the use of work of music creators and publishers. The person(s) who composed, wrote, and published the song are entitled to be compensated for the time, effort, and money they put into the creation of that work. According to the Copyright Act, any public performance of copyright-protected musical works requires a licence. When a song is played in public, music creators (not just the performers) are entitled to be compensated – it supports their livelihood. Without SOCAN, businesses that use music in public would have to get permission from every composer, songwriter, lyricist, and publisher for every musical works they intend to use, and they would have to pay each of them directly. This permission is not granted when you buy a recording , whether it is through a CD, MP3 file, etc., which only allows you to privately use the purchased music. SOCAN simplifies this complex process for businesses through licences.

How does a licence work?

A SOCAN licence grants the recipient permission to use music in a specific way. Businesses may need more than one licence, depending on how they use music (i.e. one for background music, one for music on hold, etc.).

How are licence fees determined?

SOCAN tariffs and the associated fees take into consideration the value of music to a particular business. If music is integral to your operation (i.e. dance club, concert venue), then it's worth more to your business. The rates that are set by the Copyright Board of Canada reflect this value.

If I don't use Canadian music, do I still have to get a SOCAN licence?

Yes, a SOCAN licence gives you permission to use copyright-protected musical works from anywhere around the world. Through agreements with international performing rights organizations, SOCAN issues licences for all music used in public by businesses in Canada, no matter to which society the creators belong. SOCAN then transfers the corresponding monies to the appropriate society, and vice versa.

Where does my licence fee go? Who gets it?

SOCAN is a member-based, not-for-profit organization. 91 cents of each dollar collected by SOCAN in 2015 through the issuance of licences was distributed as royalties to its members and the members of SOCAN’s affiliated international societies. The remainder covered SOCAN’s operating costs, as approved by SOCAN’s board of directors, which is comprised of members.


SOCAN’s members include music creators (songwriters, composers, lyricists) and publishers.

How are SOCAN licence fees set?

SOCAN licence fees are based on tariffs that must be approved by the Copyright Board of Canada, an independent body appointed by the Government of Canada. SOCAN files proposed tariffs with the Copyright Board, to which music users may object. If no objections are made, the Copyright Board may certify the proposed tariff as filed or with modifications. If an objection is filed concerning a particular tariff, the Copyright Board may hold a hearing between SOCAN and the objecting party or parties to determine the tariff. Once certified, the Copyright Board publishes the tariffs in the Canada Gazette.

We already pay the performers. Why do we have to pay SOCAN?

When you hire a band or a DJ, you are paying for their services as performing artists but not for the public performance of the music. Performing music and creating music are two separate types of creative work, and each deserves fair compensation, even in cases where the performers are also the creators of the works.

I already paid for the music (ie. purchased a CD or download), so why do I need a SOCAN licence?

When you buy a CD or download music from a legal site, you gain the right to play music in private but not in public. Only a SOCAN licence allows you to perform that music in public.

I rent my venue to promoters. Shouldn’t they be responsible for paying the SOCAN fee?

Yes, they are also responsible. If the promoter of an event doesn’t obtain the necessary licence, the owner of the venue can be held responsible for the unlicensed performance.

What is Public Domain Music?

In Canada, a musical work enters the public domain 50 years after the year of the death of the last surviving composer/author of the work. No fees are typically due if all the works in a performance are public domain. You are responsible for submitting a program to SOCAN for final determination. Please contact SOCAN at 1-866-944-6223 or

When is a performance a grand right versus a small right?

SOCAN represents the "small" performing rights in musical works. When musical works are used in theatrical shows and/or operas that combine the music with staging, dialogue, and costuming, it is referred to as a "grand" right. Anne of Green Gables by Norman Campbell and The Nutcracker by Pyotr Tchaikovsky are both productions which have "grand" rights. To obtain a grand right licence, you must contact the publisher.

I think my event might qualify for an exemption. What is my next step?

Section 32.2(3) of the Copyright Act allows for exemption from SOCAN license fees in the case where there is a performance in public of a musical work in furtherance of religious, educational or charitable objectives. Only performances by religious, charitable or fraternal organizations and educational institutions are eligible.

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If you have further questions about SOCAN licensing, please contact SOCAN at 1-866-944-6223 or