Bring fairness to music licensing

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) writes: Establishment owners should not be forced to conduct business with every licensing society demanding a fee. There needs to be transparency in how establishments are billed, and we need to ensure that when a business pays a music licensing fee, it knows what it is buying. There can be no fair long-term marketplace outcomes when the playing field is weighted in favor of performance rights groups.

Arizona Update: Paying for the music: Local bars, musicians open up about copyright fees - The Prescott Daily Courier

As reported in Arizona in the The Prescott Daily Courier: It's creating a Catch-22 said local musician Christian Berry. Musicians are getting gigs and then asked if they could play all original music when it used to be that the venue owners didn't want only original music because often people would leave, he said. Now, they ask for all originals because they don't want to be hassled, Barry said. 

"It's gotten to the point where every local musician has been affected," Berry said. 

Filmmaker Challenging Copyright of Happy Birthday Song

Jennifer Nelson, a filmmaker, paid for the rights to use the Happy Birthday song in a documentary she is working on about the song’s long history and its current copyright standing. But now she is suing Warner/Chappell Music and she’s claiming that the song belongs in the public domain and should be available for anyone to use for free.

Read more: 'Happy Birthday' Hits Sour Notes When It Comes To Song's Free Use

Local Businesses Continue to Get Sued by PROs

Here’s a story coming out of New Jersey that describes the methods PROs employ to make examples of local business owners who didn’t pay music licensing fees. According to this USA Today article, BMI sought legal action against more than 160 businesses in 2014 for copyright violations. About a half dozen New Jersey bars and restaurants were sued for alleged infringements and one restaurant was forced to pay BMI $24,000 for playing four songs without a music license. 

Read More: BMI song lawsuits make rounds in Jersey bars

Shakedown Music Licensing Fees?

Here’s a report from New Hampshire of what happens when local bars and restaurants pull the plug on music because of music licensing fees. According to the report, a local bar owner in Hampton Beach, NH, was forced to pay $17,500 plus attorney fees to BMI after being sued for patrons singing karaoke songs in the venue. While it appears BMI ultimately succeeded in its lawsuit, local musicians are losing out because they don’t have a venue to perform music. According to a musician quoted in this article: “Middle class musicians are really hurt by BMI, ASCAP and SESAC royalties being so high for venues and restaurants and bars that aren't able to keep up and pay those dues."

Read more: Music licensing fees called a 'shakedown'

Spying on the Local Band

Are PROs hurting local musicians by spying on local bars and restaurants? This story from Philadelphia illustrates how far PROs are willing to go when collecting fees from establishments that play live music. According the report, BMI monitors social media and, as a last resort, will send employees out to various places to seek out establishments that host live local music for their customers. Musicians feel the impact, as these enforcement tactics create an uncomfortable atmosphere at local venues and has caused some bars to do away with playing live music.

Read more: The Day the Music…. Spied?