Barkeepers beware: Providence pub must pay the piper (ASCAP / BMI / SESAC)

You'd think business owners would have gotten the word about music licenses by now, wouldn't you?   The Providence Journal reported last Sunday about a barkeeper who's been running his place for 16 years, featuring live and recorded music, and never thought about paying for the music that helps draw a crowd into the venue… Providence pub must pay the piper, musicians say [Providence Journal]

This is another object lesson for any small business owner who plans to play music (live or recorded) on the premises. Sure, there are some very limited exceptions (consult your entertainment lawyer for details) in the law, but the general rule is, if you use music, you need to obtain licenses from the performing rights organizations.

8 Responses to Barkeepers beware: Providence pub must pay the piper (ASCAP / BMI / SESAC)

  1. That is a strawman argument. A musician will play music because it is a.) an agreeable lifestyle for him/her; b.) because even without royalties, he/she will earn a profit on records sold and for performances; and c.) because they love making music and want to be known for their creation. We hear Beethoven’s work everywhere, and he always gets the credit.

    The tangible aspect of a musician’s craft is the album it becomes imprinted on, or the mp3 in which it is encoded. (Also, the labor craft is founded upon “intellectual property” as well, i.e. the methods, procedures, theories, etc., so it is futile to found one’s argument upon an “intellectual” footing solely.) Once it (the musician’s tangible product) is lawfully purchased by an end consumer, the musician has no more right to say who should listen to it and when, than a writer has to say who should read their book and how. A book is a piece of intellectual property, so why do libraries not pay royalties to authors? They purchase the book once, as do you and I, and they loan it to as many people as they deem fit. In addition to that, some libraries offer public readings. That is exactly the same, in fact, it is even more of a violation of the supposed “intellectual property rights” of the author: the library specifically generates its profit through the usage of the books, whereas the businesses you and I have referred to specifically make their profits by selling other products while using the music for aesthetic purposes.

    “…[T]hey write in HOPES that their songs become popular, are played in public, and they are THEN paid.” Thank you for further elucidating the point I made in my original post: without the mediums, radio, bars, clubs, etc., the musicians would never sell albums nor ever be booked to perform live. So then, are those mediums not performing a service for the musician? They are indeed performing the service at their own expense, for they had to initially purchase the music, which they are then advertising FOR FREE! Yes, they make profits in the lines of business they are in, but why should they have to pay a musician, twice no less, for the free marketing of their music? If we are to truly speak of fairness and equity, then should we say that the musician, or label, should have to compensate the radio station, bar, club, etc., for making their artists popular enough to enrich themselves as they do?

  2. I do not think that anyone will disagree with the notion that once one borrows someone else’s work, that credit should indeed be given to the originator of the initial creation. With that being said, if an artist who “covers” a song takes the liberty of adding his/her own style to the song, which then garners a following based upon the said artist’s individual interpretation and musicianship, I believe it can be safely inferred that that following is based upon the new version, rather than the old. If the old version was so enticing, people would continue to patronize that version and ignore the new one. If a tiler comes to my house and replaces my linoleum kitchen floor with a elegant tile, should the layer of the original floor demand royalty payment for using the foundation he/she originally laid down? Credit is one thing, remuneration is another; the new artist is being remunerated for their work, viz. the updating of an old tune. Ideas should not be owned, read, Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine.

    The second issue you raise, regarding record companies, is a valid issue as well. To that I say: if an artist would like to take in more of the money, release the record independently. The natural reply to that would be one based upon the capital it would take to reach such a wide audience, and that it makes more sense to go through the label. Well then, is it not right to pay the label for their services: the fronting for studio time, distribution, marketing, etc.? It is a service like any other. The service the artist is paid for is quite correctly the record and performance fees; they are paid for their performance, literally, recorded and live.

    Lastly, the bar or club, or any other business for that matter, makes money off of the product(s) it sells. People go to bars and clubs to drink and intermingle, restaurants to eat and drink, car dealers for cars, ikea for furniture, etc.; the aesthetics are most certainly not the principal selling tool. If a club has a nicely installed wooden dance floor, should the constructors of the floor be remunerated every time someone dances on it? Should the the construction company which outfitted the local bar with its bar counters be paid a royalty every time a drink is set down on the counter? Hardly. The business, like any ordinary consumer, purchases the music to be played at its establishment. At that point the artist is compensated for his/her/their work. Asking for any more is extortion: “you pay me money to play my music, which you lawfully purchased from me at a predetermined fee, or else”. I will never be able to reconcile that concept with the ideal of free and just liberty.

  3. Yes Mr. Firemark, it truly is nonsense. A logical deduction of the situation enables one to clearly see that without sound recordings being aired in the public domain, it would be pretty much impossible for the artist to enrich themselves, as they now do, via album and merchandise sales. The artists themselves could not possibly reach a wide enough audience to establish the type of commercial success that they currently enjoy by simply playing to live audiences. Furthermore, even if an artist attempted such a feat, how could one reasonably assume that they could garner large enough audiences without those audiences being previously familiar with their repertoire? How would Joe Public become familiar with the artist’s work?
    Radio, bars, restaurants, department stores, etc, should share a symbiotic relationship with musicians. The music accommodates the patron of the business, while the business serves as advertising for the musician; mutually beneficial without exacerbating the relationaship. However, because of lawyers such as yourself, and PRO’s, this once symbiotic relationship has been transformed into a parasitic one.
    Congratulations.

  4. Is it really “nonsense” that the people responsible for writing songs be compensated when a bar, restaurant or other business uses their work to create an “atmosphere” in which to sell more drinks, food, products, etc?

    The down economy is no excuse… it hits artists hard too.

    Most Artists are “the little guy”, and this is one area of I.P. Law that favors the Artist.

  5. With the economy in shambles and intellectual property law so heavily favoring corporations, nonsense such as this is sure to continue.

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