This guest post is by Matt Haddad, who has just completed the Entertainment Law and Web 2.0 course at Southwestern:
What happens when a dining spot with a well-known Los Angeles name serves up unlicensed tunes, gets caught and then wants to litigate a lot? Well, just ask the owners of Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles in Long Beach.
The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) is a performing rights organization that represents over 427,000 songwriters, composers, and music publishers. It licenses its members’ music and collects royalties when their music is performed publicly. An ASCAP license gives a venue the ability to use any of the 8.5 million songs and musical works that it oversees. Roscoe’s in Long Beach opened a lounge where live music and songs from CDs were played over a loud speaker. Management rejected multiple offers by ASCAP to obtain licensing between 2001 and 2008. Ultimately, ASCAP hired an investigator who identified the public performance of eight songs that had valid copyrights registered to seven ASCAP members. The music companies sued and won on summary judgment. Roscoe’s lost its appeal which you can read here.
The music companies were awarded $4,500 per copyright infringement and $162,000 for attorneys’ fees. The legal documents offer no explanation as to why defendants in this case failed to seek licensing nor why they kept at this case. If some quick math adds up, licensing for instances like those described in this case might have amounted to a few hundred bucks annually. Instead, this Roscoe’s may need to add some crow to its tasty menu and sell a lot of chicken and waffles to make up those costs. This case offers a reminder on just who needs a music license: Any place that has public performances of music. Exempted are small family gatherings with social acquaintances, worship services unless they are broadcast, and performances that are part of teaching at a non-profit educational institution. Read all the license regulations here.