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Friday, 01 June 2018 00:00

Playing Copyright Protected Music In Your Place of Business Can be Illegal

Written by Jonathan Druckman

Even small businesses can be sued if they are playing copyright protected music in their establishments.

Last month Villari's Lakeside Restaurant and Bar in the Sicklerville, a restaurant in Gloucester Township, NJ lost a lawsuit by default (Villari did not show up to court). A few years ago Villari’s was sued by Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) for playing copyright protected music tunes on a karaoke machine.

BMI is a non-profit international organization that claims to be the largest music rights organization in the US. BMI monitors music that is played publically at clubs, dance halls, in elevators, by bands, etc. BMI’s goal is to help ensure that the royalty fees are paid to songwriters, composers and music publishers that own the songs each and every time a song is played in these establishments. As explained on BMI’s website, https://www.bmi.com/, “You can’t play music publicly without one [a music license]. Copyright laws require music users to get permission from songwriters and composers who can charge a fee before their music is played publicly, which then allows them to continue to create music,”.

Over the past five years BMI settled at least 25 lawsuits in the Tampa Bay area with reported settlements ranging from $10,000 to over $60,000. Although Villari’s did not show up in court a federal judge in Camden ruled in favor of BMI and ordered Villari’s to pay $56,100. The court determined this amount because there were 17 songs that were copyright protected and the amount per song awarded was $3,300 totally to the $56,100. The court documents indicate that the annual fee that Villari's would have paid was $6,500 per year. Besides the judgment of $56,100 the judge also ordered that Villari’s pay the plaintiff’s, BMI, attorney fees.

BMI maintains that if you play songs in your establishment that break music licensing laws you can be sued. They maintain that this includes songs and music from your personal devices such as phones or iPods; or play purchased songs from CDs or MP3s; or stream songs from Spotify or Pandora; or have live performers that play covers; or broadcasts sound from TV programs, you need to pay a license fee. BMI makes it clear that you are not protected from a potential lawsuit because you are claiming ignorance to the law and breaking music licensing laws.

The national advocacy group Fairness in Music Licensing Coalition (FMLC), http://www.musicfairness.org/, claim to be the only group exclusively advocating to promote the interest of organizations and small businesses impacted by the current unfair process of determining music licensing fees. FMLC, believe that BMI and other performing rights organizations need to be reined in and that copyright laws should be changed so that they are more transparent, simpler and fairer for small businesses especially in the hospitality industry. FMLC state that the Copyright Act allows companies such as BMI to take advantage of small business owners and the Copyright Act is not achieving its original intended purpose and that a reasonable solution to the current unfair music licensing fee system can be achieved.

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