Popular beach bar in Jax isn’t alone in facing music licensing suit

Surfer the Bar in Jacksonville Beach (FL) isn’t the first bar to allegedly run afoul of music licensing regulations. ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers] is suing the bar on behalf of a number of groups for copyright infringement. Does this matter, in the scheme of things, for a bar that stands on hallowed ground in these parts—the former location of Freebird? Surfer the Bar isn’t the only venue to deal with copyright infringement issues.

This lawsuit and other suits like it do matter in a big way. For one thing, ASCAP isn’t just asking for damages. The organization seeks a goal that could inflict seriously negative consequences:

“The plaintiffs ask the court to permanently restrain the bar from publicly performing copyrighted material and that the defendants be ordered to pay $750 to $30,000 for each of the three counts of alleged infringement, plus attorney fees.”

I guess the only option in a case like that would be to feature music that isn’t copyrighted or that doesn’t fall under the auspices of any performing rights organization like ASCAP, BMI [Broadcast Music Inc.], or SESAC [Society of European Stage Authors and Composers]. By way of disclosure, the frontwoman for the band I assist is a member of BMI.

PROs (performing rights organizations) haven’t just started filing lawsuits. Obtaining a music license, if you feature copyrighted works, has been around for a very long time. Personally speaking, a bar I held a financial interest in many years ago routinely purchased music licenses. It was a small neighborhood bar, and we were known for our music and French wine. We didn’t even think twice about paying the license fee because, for one thing, I’m a writer and I definitely believe in intellectual property rights.

If you use a trusted search engine like DuckDuckGo, and plug into your search field ASCAP lawsuits copyright infringement, you will see that this is a matter affecting bars and other venues across the USA.

If you compose and perform your own music, as an artist, BMI Live will pay you royalties for performing your own music, if you’ve registered it and are a member, in bars and venues. You will have to file a set report to obtain payment. If you do 75-100 gigs a year and perform your own music in your sets, it’s worth your time to file those reports for what artists call “mailbox money.”

While media have painted the PROs as villains in some cases, media fail to understand that a work of art belongs to the artist until rights are assigned to another entity. As a writer, I have to appreciate the fact PROs look out for musicians, unlike groups associated with the writing profession.

I recall what a man told me at a book signing after my nonfiction work came out through a regional publisher. Regional publishers need every dime they can make—they offer writers a more welcoming door than the big houses do. In this case, I am talking about bona fide indie publishers who invest their own money in your book and often pay a small advance to the author. Royalties are paid to the author once book sales commence.

Anyway, I’m at a book signing held at a chain store, and this fellow gets in the line (yes, it was a small line) to talk to me. He told me he loved my book and he thanked me for writing it. A couple ladies were behind him, so I said, “Did you want me to sign the book for you?”

“Oh, no,” he said. “I read it in the café at [the book store I will not name]. I didn’t buy it.”

He had simply pulled the book off the shelf and sat down in the coffee area of the store to read. He did tell me he returned the book to the shelf when he finished it. I deserve an award for holding my temper with that fellow.

Licensing fees for copyrighted music aren’t cost-prohibitive. You can see what’s involved in obtaining a license by visiting ASCAP or BMI.

(Kay B. Day/Feb. 27, 2019)


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