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I am a playwright designing a show for the cruise line industry and am curious about the rights and licenses that apply to using popular music in my show. I intend to play the popular music, (as the original recordings) as background tracks, with some live piano and live singing done to add to the theatrics... Depending on the venue. Who holds or needs the license, me as the performer or the cruise line?

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It would be more common for the cruise line to secure a license to allow the performance to be put on as the license applies to everyone involved in "each public performance" of the copyrighted work, and that might involve varied people putting it on. Also, the cruise line generally has more resources to do so.

But, this is merely industry custom, and musician could "produce" the show for the cruise line and get the license personally instead.

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