When I was on a cruise ship, the song "Hungry Heart" was played on a daily, almost hourly basis on the ship over its p.a. system. Does the ship need to get a license/pay royalties for the right to do this? Or is this "fair use?" Put another way, does a DJ need to pay royalties every time s/he plays a song over e.g. the radio? Or can they get a "pass" by claiming that they are not earning money on the song itself, only the advertising that the radio sells? (It could be any song, but the Bruce Springsteen song was the one I remembered.)

Is there a legal mechanism whereby the cruise ship can "escape" paying royalties? Theory 1 is that the cruise is in international waters. 2) Theory 2 is that the cruise ship is merely "rebroadcastng" a radio or TV show that contained the song. Obviously, the radio or TV show had to pay for the original song use, but does that apply to viewers/listeners of a TV show?

My understanding is that the cruise ship has to pay royalties on "live" performances on the ship, so my question is about "canned" performances. For example, does a bar have to pay directly for the playing of say, songs on a jukebox, or is that the responsibility of the jukebox lessor? Put another way, does the responsibility for paying for "canned" music fall on the "canner", (radio/TV/jukebox provider), or on the "can opener," (ship or bar)?

  • Is the essence of this question (as compared to the many existing questions on public performance of copyrighted work) the idea that the cruise ship is doing this while in international waters?
    – feetwet
    Jun 19, 2017 at 10:39
  • @feetwet: Yes, the cruise ship is on international waters, and not on land.Perhaps that's the key. Another possibility is that a radio or TV show has to pay royalties, but if I broadcast the radio or TV show in my auditorium, I may not have to pay because the radio/TV already has.
    – Libra
    Jun 19, 2017 at 10:55
  • You should clarify what the question is here.
    – feetwet
    Jun 19, 2017 at 14:41

1 Answer 1


17 USC 106(4) gives the copyright holder

the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following...

in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly

The cruise ship is making money for "the whole package", which includes the food, lounge chairs, and music; even if they were making no money, the right is not contingent on making money. It is clearly not "fair use". So if the usage were unlicensed, it would depend on the flag of the ship, e.g. US or Norway. Ships in international waters are not free of law, though when in port they may also be subject to the laws of the port country.

The terms of payment are determined by the license, so it could be unlimited usage in a stated time frame, or a per-use charge, or whatever it says in the license.

  • 2
    Realistically, any major cruise line would have obtained a license that includes all of the music used on the ships in its fleet similar to the one obtained by radio stations that basically gives them carte blache to play anything in the licensor's large library of copyrights so long as records are maintained to allow the flat licensing fee to be divided properly among the artists entitled to royalties.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 20, 2017 at 4:17
  • 1
    @ohwilleke: Your comment is better than the answer. Why not make it into an answer that I would certainly upvote, and possibly accept?
    – Libra
    Jun 21, 2017 at 1:39

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .