I know that I usually post articles that are politically motivated but I ran into a situation today that I feel people need to be aware of.
I run an independent coffee shop and was excited when we opened that I would be able to play music in the coffee shop that I had legally bought from either a music store or off the net(usually via iTunes). I also spent an incredible amount of money on a sound system so that independent musicians could come and play their music for the enjoyment of our patrons. Seeing as we would never charge for our patrons to come in the door, I thought nothing of it, that is, until ASCAP(American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) began harassing us.
It turns out that you cannot play any type of music over a speaker system, nor can you have musicians cover other artists works without paying a hefty fee to ASCAP.
I have 3 major disagreements with this group. First of all I ALREADY paid for the CD's, therefore giving the studios who published this music the opportunity to pay the prospective artist's their royalty from my purchase. Why should I in turn have to pay an exorbitant fee to play this music over a speaker on MY OWN PROPERTY. I would understand if the music was why I was making my money(i.e. a radio station, a dance club, a bar charging a cover) but it is there purely for background music enjoyment. Lawyers for ASCAP in these cases will state "irreparable damages" or "injury" to the artist. Can someone please explain to me the "irreparable damage" done to the musician other than possibly advertising their music for them for FREE in an establishment that doesn't have to do so in the first place.
Secondly, musicians that come in to my shop and play a majority of original songs sometimes want to play a cover tune in the middle of their set. According to ASCAP, if a musician plays even ONE song that is not their own, the business is liable to over $400 that year as a fee to ASCAP. As a musician myself, I feel that if someone likes my music enough to learn it and play it in a public setting, I should be honored that they would give me free advertising, as long as they state who the original author is.
Thirdly, if a musician who has been signed with a label affiliated with ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC(the three big organizations who claim complete ownership of your copyrighted material), and they decide to play their own music at my coffee shop, ASCAP can legally sue me for not paying their royalty fee, even though the artist chose to play their own music.
In learning the complete ownership that ASCAP has over almost every single song written in America since 1914, I have had to put away an enormous array of great music that I would otherwise be playing. I have also had to shut down most of the artists who play here because they might be covering material that is not their own, even though they give credit to the original artist. The only thing I am barely allowed to do is play the radio because I'm under a specific square footage.
Here is what I would change if I could afford to take ASCAP to court today:
1. A commercial business of any kind should only have to pay a fee to a copyright organization if the music that is being played in that establishment is directly making money for that business. This includes radio stations, night clubs, dance clubs, and bars(because a bar would be a very boring bar with no music). This includes jukebox's which, even though the owner has already paid for the music in that jukebox, continue to make money for that establishment.
2. You should not have to pay a fee to ASCAP if an indie artist covers another artist's song if: (1) The indie artist gives credit to the original artist and (2) does not charge a cover to enter the establishment.
3. Amazingly enough, if you own more than 3750 sq. ft.(not including parking space), playing the radio over your own speaker system isn't even free. This is the most ridiculous example of the mafia that is ASCAP. How can you start charging for public air waves? The radio stations already pay tremendous fees for the right to play the artist's music. Why should you in turn have to pay a second fee to play that music over your own radio. This has got to change.