Performing Rights Organizations, often referred to as PROs, are helpful organizations for the songwriter. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are the three performing rights organizations in the US. These organizations act as agents for the purpose of licensing “performing rights” on behalf of songwriters and publishers. One of the rights granted a copyright owner, under US copyright law, is the right to perform a song publicly. This right covers not only live performances of a song, but playing a recorded version of a song publicly, as well.
The performing rights organizations issue licenses and collect fees from radio stations, television networks, hotels, nightclubs, concert venues, arenas, skating rinks, ball parks, restaurants, coffee houses, internet companies, airlines and other outlets where music is performed either live or recorded.
The PROs are voluntary associations, and songwriters and music publishers have no obligation to join. However, it is to their advantage to do so and have their songs licensed by one of these three organizations. It would be an extremely difficult task for the individual songwriter or publisher to negotiate licenses and collect royalties with the thousands of companies and venues that perform music regularly. And it would be just as daunting a task for a single radio station, for example, to contact each individual publisher or songwriter to negotiate a license and pay royalties for airplay of their songs. Having a central clearing house for hundreds of thousands of songs, is no doubt advantageous to everyone involved.