Live music fans who frequent shows and nightclubs may not realize that clubs generally pay a modest licensing fee to something called the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). According to ASCAP, the fee “ensures its members can earn a living from their art by licensing the public performances of their songs, collecting those license fees, and distributing royalties to its members.” It’s basically a license for the legal right to play copyrighted songs in bars, restaurants, or on radio stations.
But ASCAP announced on Thursday that it was suing 12 nightclubs across the country for playing copyrighted music without the required ASCAP license. Among these nightclubs is the Inner Richmond’s Neck of the Woods (408 Clement Street at Fifth Avenue).
“Each of the establishments sued today has decided to use music without compensating songwriters,” ASCAP vice president of licensing Stephanie Ruyle said in a release. “Hundreds of thousands of well-run businesses across the nation recognize the importance of paying music creators to use their music and understand that it is both the lawful and right thing to do. By filing these actions, ASCAP is standing up for songwriters whose creative work brings great value to all businesses that publicly perform their music.”
These ASCAP licenses are not something that everyday music fans know much about. Do most bars really pay these ASCAP fees?
"Everyone has to pay," one prominent bar SF co-owner tells Hoodline, preferring to remain anonymous because of the legal proceedings. "Generally what happens is they send you a bill."
This bar co-owner estimates their own venue’s bill at about $1,000 annually. "It's not that much money," they tell us. "For what you get in return, it's pennies."
Moreover, a report in the Examiner says that “Neck of the Woods had an active license with ASCAP from 2009 to 2015 but was not paying their license fees,” and “The license was terminated.”
ASCAP’s release insists that “ASCAP has made numerous attempts at the establishments listed below to offer a license and educate the business owners about their obligations under federal copyright law. Despite these efforts, the owners of these establishments have repeatedly refused to take or honor a license. Instead, they have continued to perform the copyrighted musical works of ASCAP's songwriter, composer and music publisher members for the entertainment of their patrons without obtaining permission to do so.”
The release also contains a statement from ASCAP chairman and president Paul Williams. (Yes the 1970s singer/songwriter Paul Williams who appeared in Smokey and the Bandit movies, wrote “Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie, and sang “Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song.”)
“As songwriters and composers, we must earn our livelihoods through our creative work, and music is how we put food on the table and send our kids to school,” Williams said. “Most businesses know that an ASCAP license allows them to offer music legally, efficiently and at a reasonable price – while compensating music creators fairly.”
Neck of the Woods has not returned Hoodline’s request for comment, but we will update this report with any response.