Live Music in Your Bar: Don’t Get in Trouble Over Music Rights

Live Music in Your Bar: Don’t Get in Trouble Over Music Rights

Nothing beats a hometown bar with a great cover band. Live music, cold drinks, and that friendly neighborhood atmosphere can bring a smile to everyone’s face. For bar owners, however, there can be hidden complications to having live music. In fact, live music has become a trap for the unwary in recent years.

Small bars from coast to coast are coming under scrutiny and even getting sued by large royalties enforcement companies. The lawsuits are often baseless and targeted at small mom and pop bars and restaurants. The good news is, if your business is being threatened with a copyright lawsuit or you’ve received threatening letters or phone calls, you don’t have to go through it alone. A South Carolina entertainment lawyer can help review your situation and respond to allegations.

What Is Copyright Infringement?

Under federal law, a copyright is defined as any of the following works that represent a unique production by someone:

  • (1) Written and literary materials
  • (2) Music (including lyrics)
  • (3) Plays, performances, and so forth (including the music that goes with them)
  • (4) Pantomimes and dance routines (choreography)
  • (5) Pictures, photographs, graphic designs, and sculptures
  • (6) Movies and TV shows (any type of motion picture or other audio-visual creative work)
  • (7) Audio recordings
  • (8) Architectural designs and schematics

Infringement occurs when you use someone else’s creative work for your own financial gain without attribution or payment.

What Are Royalties?

Royalties are payments made for the purpose of purchasing limited rights to use artistic materials. There are a number of large companies that hold contracts with artists, bands, studios, and songwriters. Under these contracts, these companies have the right to collect royalties from anyone wanting to use these works for profit. In turn, they take a fee and pass on royalties to the artists. By acting as middlemen, these companies have a strong incentive to enforce the rules and collect from anyone they think is breaking the rules. Some of the biggest companies are:

  • BMI: Broadcast Music, Inc.
  • SESAC: Society of European Stage Authors and Composers
  • ASCAP: American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers

How Can A Bar Violate A Copyright By Letting Cover Bands Perform?

In order for a band to play music written and originally recorded by someone else, that “cover band” must obtain rights to do so, usually by paying royalties. You may be thinking, “but shouldn’t the cover band be responsible for paying royalties?” The answer is a bit complicated. Yes, the band is playing copyrighted material for profit, but they are, in turn, being paid by the bar owner to do so. Therefore, the violation is usually passed on to the party who hired them to infringe the copyright. And this is precisely how so many bars get in trouble.

What To Do If Threatened By BMI, SESAC Or ASCAP

First, the National Restaurant Association provides some helpful tips for avoiding problems to begin with. If you’ve already received a cease and desist letter from a large corporation or their attorneys, you should immediately schedule an appointment to speak with an attorney of your own. Find out if you are indeed breaking the rules. If so, an attorney may be able to assist you in gaining legal authority to continue having a cover band perform. If not, an attorney can help you defend against a frivolous suit. Don’t let a threat letter keep you up at night. Contact the Klok Law Firm LLC to schedule an appointment to discuss your case today.