We’ve previously discussed the necessity of club owners and restaurateurs to pay the Performing Rights Organizations (“PROs”) for use of live and recorded music. Depending upon the egregiousness of the failure to pay, the obligation might not be dischargeable in bankruptcy. So, if you’re not licensing the music, what can you do when you get the dreaded demand letter and threat of litigation from ASCAP, BMI or SESAC? You may have some room to negotiate.
Of the three PROs, ASCAP is the most litigious. For example, in May 2015, ASCAP filed copyright infringement suits against seven recalcitrant clubs and restaurants across the country (including one in Atlanta, GA). And while, as a club owner, it may seem unfair to have to obtain licenses from each of the three PROs, bear in mind that by playing unlicensed music, the club is getting a free ride at the expense of the songwriter.
ASCAP President and Chairman, songwriter Paul Williams (check out Paul Williams in the high-camp bomb, Phantom of the Paradise) noted: “We want every business that uses music to prosper, including bars and restaurants. After all, as songwriters and composers, we are small business owners, too, and music is more than an art form for us. It’s how we put food on the table and send our kids to school. Most businesses know that an ASCAP license allows them to offer music legally, efficiently and at a reasonable price – while compensating music creators so we can earn a living from our work and keep doing what we do best – writing music.”