Since music is so common and customary in our society and culture, we very often take it for granted. Just because you purchase a CD or buy and (legally) download an MP3 file does not give you permission to play the track absolutely anywhere. While you are certainly allowed to play the music for private listening and enjoyment (in your car, at home, etc.), you are not allowed to re-broadcast copyrighted music in a commercial setting without the proper licenses.
Virtually all music you hear (on the radio, in stores, etc) is copyrighted music. This means the artists and those who produced the music hold the exclusive rights to copy, license, and otherwise use the music. Purchasing a CD or music online only gives you the right to private listening (in your car with friends, within your own home or private office), not to re-broadcast the music in a commercial setting such as a restaurant, office building, retail store, or for customers put on hold.
In order to play music for business purposes, you must obtain the proper licenses to do so. For more information regarding licensing, visit the official website of Broadcast Music, Inc: http://www.BMI.com.
Since there are virtually millions of pieces of music played every day throughout the country in offices, stores, on hold, and other commercial establishments, it can be very hard to monitor all the music being played. So should you choose to play music for the general public without having the proper licenses, you may not get caught; however, you run the risk of having to go through lengthy litigation and pay hefty fines should you be caught. The BMI and other corporations have stepped up efforts to curb illegal broadcasting of music, by contacting businesses that use on-hold music to ensure they have all the proper licenses.
Fines for this form of copyright infringement can be as high as $20,000 for each individual song or performance played without the suitable license. Such hefty fines can quickly and steeply increase if proven that the infringement was purposeful. Contact a licensing agency to take steps to protect you and your business from copyright infringement.