TEXT OF STORY
Doug Krizner: When you kick back at a bar or a restaurant, there’s usually music playing in the background. Well, those venues are supposed to shell out a license fee for those songs.
Copyright law says songwriters deserve a cut whenever a business plays their work in public. But not all business owners seem to agree. And that’s sparking some lawsuits, as Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.
Ashley Milne-Tyte: Businesses that don’t pay up could be saddled with fines as high as $150,000.
Vincent Candilora is with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP. He says ASCAP only sues venues after it’s spent months appealing to the owners.
Vincent Candilora: We discuss and educate them as to how we arrive at the rates, we talk about the value that music has in their business. And in these instances, the business owners decided that they were simply going to ignore us.
The license fee venue owners pay depends on factors like how many seats the venue has and whether the music is played live or on CD. Rates vary from $300 a year up into the thousands.
Ben owns a bar in Brooklyn. He hasn’t bought a license fee for the music he plays.
Ben: I would not have $300 at the end of the year to pay them, no. No way.
Big nightclubs tend to regard the fees as a cost of doing business. But some small bar owners, like Ben, say they already pay hefty amounts in taxes and other fees to keep their places running. Ben says forcing them to cough up a license fee is unfair.
Ben: I guess I just don’t think I should. I mean if I bought the music, I own that CD. Why can’t I play it in my establishment if I own the establishment?
But Grammy-winning songwriter Gordon Chambers says the fee is fair. Unlike recording artists, songwriters aren’t paid an advance, and they can’t rake in money from performances or merchandise.
Gordon Chambers: You get paid a cut when the album sells, and the way it really works down is to pennies.
Nine cents per song, to be precise. That money can add up when an album sells.
But Chambers says illegal music downloads have cut into album sales.
Chambers: Because records are selling less and less, as songwriters we’re more and more reliant on those performance royalties to have a way of seeing an income on a song.
Some small business owners may object to paying the license fees. But Chambers says self-employed songwriters are small businesses, too. And many of them are going out of business.
In New York, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.
We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.
Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.
In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.
Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.