Commercial customers: Don’t stream in public!

“It’s a victimless crime.”

“Everybody does it.

“No one will ever know.”

These are things we tell ourselves every day when we want to so something that is against the law or against the moral compact we live by. I’m talking about taking a grape or two at the market, running a red light at 3am, or making a copy of your friend’s music collection. Society allows for these relatively minor infractions. We just move on.

And then, there’s the matter of showing Netflix in your bar.

Here’s the thing. Anytime you have a TV on in public, you’re providing what’s called a “public performance.” By law, if you charge for that performance, or even if you profit from it, you are supposed to pay the performer (in other words the company supplying the TV programs.) You’ve seen or heard those disclaimers on sports programming on how “this program is the exclusive property of the National Football League blah blah blah.” That’s what I’m talking about here. That’s their legal way of saying, “if you show this on the TV in your store, you owe us money.”

It’s not just the NFL, it’s every broadcaster. That includes streaming, too. We may say it’s a victimless crime but royalties actually do account for a pretty large cash flow for broadcasters. If you’re not supplying them, if enough people aren’t supplying them, then rates go up for everyone or companies go out of business.

When it comes to public performance of streamed entertainment, everyone is most certainly not doing it. Just sitting in a McDonalds watching Netflix is technically public, but there’s a reasonable limit to how many people will stand behind your phone and watch with you. If you hooked up the phone to a big TV, that’s a public performance but most people are not doing that.

Here’s the kicker… they WILL know.

If you stream Netflix from your bar and restaurant, that location information gets to them. One time may not cause them to sit up and take notice but if you do it enough they will figure out what you’re doing.

They’ll know exactly where you are. You can use a VPN to hide your location but your internet service provider will know that you’re connecting to that VPN. With only scant evidence, the people at Netflix will still be able to track you down if they want to.

What happens when they find out?

You could get a cease-and-desist letter. You could get sued, not just by one company but many. You could lose your business. I personally know of a restaurant that was using satellite TV equipment they brought from home. The owner was contacted by some very sharp lawyers who proposed a million-dollar lawsuit. Of course that was a scare tactic and they settled for a few thousand dollars and a contract, but that’s still quite a lot of money for a small restaurant to pay. It’s more than they would have paid for satellite TV service in the first place.

Honestly, it’s just not worth it. If you want to use a streaming service at your place of business, contact them. Just make it right from the get-go. Guaranteed, they’ll find out sooner or later.