ASCAP's Mafia-Like Control Over The Music Industry


New member
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.


New member
Just a few words to that

When you buy a CD you buy it for your personal use. I think it's even written on the CD or booklet. It is a public performance, I mean you can't buy a DVD and organize Movie matinees either or mke free copies of a CD and give it away as a gift. The ASCAP is supposed to collect for the Artists (how fair that is handled is a different question). So in theory you are paying the artist for the usage (public performance) of his/her intellectual property, which isn't a bad thing in itself. Artists wanna live too.



Admiral of Fugues
Copyright is there to protect musicians' work. If you purchase a CD, you pay a royalty (albeit small) to the artist. If you then go and play that work in a public forum others get to hear the artists' work without paying for the rights. As a published musicians I'm afraid I'm in agreement with copyright laws on this one ...

Jeffrey Hall

New member
I also agree with the replies posted. Title 17 is quite clear about "public performances." It covers almost anything that is not personal, private use, including, for example, elevator music played as telephone hold music. All my original music is registered with BMI, and while I don't do music for a living, I do expect to be paid royalties if a radio station ever wants to play my original ragtime (not likely, but you never know); and likewise, when I used BMI-licensed material to accompany a multimedia astronomy show I developed for public use in an exhibit gallery, I was quite content (and still am) to pay the roughly $300 yearly fee. Performance rights societies save both composers and users of copyrighted music a lot of hassle, and I'm glad to be affiliated with one.


Staff member
We ran across a similar situation a number of years back when we presented a performance of "Amahl" in and for our church, during the normal service times. We had to pay a 'royalty' fee to the publisher as the performance was in a public place.

A local boy scout troop got into a legal snag when it showed DVD movies to its own troop members at a seasonal party. Again, the showing was in a public place, and although no money was exchanged nor tickets required, it was considered a public performance and the royalty rules applied.

It all boils down to the same rule that applies on copying music that is not in public domain. It has to stop somewhere - albeit much harder to enforce these days, but as Jeff has stated, I would want to be properly compensated for someone else using my copyrighted material. Just my 5 cents worth, anyway :cheers: .

Jeffrey Hall

New member
We ran across a similar situation a number of years back when we presented a performance of "Amahl" in and for our church, during the normal service times. We had to pay a 'royalty' fee to the publisher as the performance was in a public place.

A local boy scout troop got into a legal snag when it showed DVD movies to its own troop members at a seasonal party. Again, the showing was in a public place, and although no money was exchanged nor tickets required, it was considered a public performance and the royalty rules applied.

Hi Kh,

Both your examples here are really interesting.

In the case of Amahl, yes, presenting it in church is a public performance in the eyes of copyright law. On the other hand, it is OK (I'm pretty sure: i'm not looking at the lengthy legalese as I type) to play copyrighted works in, say, a student recital. I've played music that is still technically copyrighted at church and in concerts, but not with much worry. Likewise, I just posted in another thread that we are doing a non public-domain Britten work for the anthem this Sunday, but I think it's OK in that context -- what is not OK is to buy one copy of the score from Boosey-Hawkes and then Xerox it. In our case, every member of the choir (and me at the organ) has a legal copy of the score. Maybe there are distinctions between anthems and "extended" performances like Amahl. I should look into that further, because I really don't know all the fine points. However, I don't have a problem with Menotti's heirs wanting their due for a popular creation.

Your other example (re the Boy Scout troop) -- yep, that's exactly right. Showing movies more or less to anyone outside your immediate family is illegal, although in the case of a Boy Scout party, you start to get close to the line where it's far more trouble for the copyright owner to prosecute it than it's worth.

I've become interested in all this since I've written and published my own music, and have uploaded MP3s by others to my Web site. I'm just trying to be careful. I've also done a bit of an about face on the subject; I used to agree with the original poster's thoughts about the "mafia," but actually, BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC make a lot of sense.

It does all sound pretty It all comes out in the end. on the surface. For example, I read an article a while ago about a coffee shop in Oregon that got sued by FedEx for calling itself "Federal Espresso." Your kneejerk reaction is that FedEx is being a bunch of A-holes by attacking a poor little coffee shop that came up with a cute pun. But legally, FedEx can lose control of their trademark by allowing it to be "diluted," as the copyright lawyers call it. (My sister-in-law is a copyright lawyer herself, and I've picked her brain extensively on all this. :)) If a company loses control of a trademark or "famous mark," then anybody can use it for absolutely anything...a porn shop, say...and it's too risky for the owner to let that happen.

So yes...we need to respect intellectual property, be conservative about our use of it, and pay folks for their time, effort, and creativity. And if they've passed into the realm of life+70 (here in the USA at least), we thank them for their gifts to the world.


New member
ASCAP and the little musician that can't

Are you saying that even if I am NOT an ASCAP/BMI member and I write and record a song and "copyright" it, that ASCAP will act "without my permission" to collect royalties on my personally owned works? Because, if ASCAP is going into coffee houses and demanding royalties from the shop owner on original songs not even performed yet, without proof of membership of the songwriter in ASCAPS organization, then isn't that clearly illegal and with merit? Please clarify this for me.

I would like to poll interested coffee house owners on what they are paying in fees to ASCAP/BMI because friends of mine is considering offering live music in their coffee houses, but after reading all the horror stories about ASCAP extortion and lawsuits on the internet these past few days, it might not be a very good idea.

I see the death of live indie music being attributed to the ASCAP mafia and eventually the demise of publishers themselves. Without free live performances by new artists there is no demand, without demand there are no fans, and without fans there are no sales, therefore no need for ASCAP/BMI and the like. It's as simple as that.

Let's say the coffeehouse signs all their performers to a record contract, which includes limited publishing rights to all the songs the artists perform in the venue. And there's a clause in the contract which requires that they do not belong to ASCAP (and they don't). Does the coffeehouse still have to pay ASCAP performance or mechanical license fees? This organization seems to operate as if the are a government agency and without oversight. As a close friend put it "Innocent until proven broke!"


New member
ASCAP's Extortion

Here is the real deal: ASCAP only pays out to a select few, a pittance to a few more and then absolutely nothing to most of their catalog. I am one of the many...I have performed in countless venues...CBGB's, Hard Rock Cafe' etc etc, played on Hard, satellite and online radio worldwide, earned Six Grammy Nominations & 4 Air Platinum Record Plaques (equals 4 million plus) been a ASCAP member for 40 years and have never collected one cent. Not one. So if the PRO's did what they claim then yes, the licensing fees would and should also be fair and legitimate. But it is not! It is extortion and they are liars and thieves and they WILL sue. And oh by the way, ASCAP has never lost a suit!!! They have all your money and our money to bury you with.

Read my article:

listen to my story on the David Lawrence Radio Show (download the show)


New member
It's no wonder that they talk about "music written by dead guys". At least that's in the public domain. Do Franck or Widor care about getting 'royalties'?
I think the only way to get these groups to listen is to get the attention of their "Cash Cow" artists.

I agree with the fact that copyright performers should be compensated for their works but harassing small clubs to the point of them closing or stopping music is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't alot of these "Cash Cow" performers start out in the small clubs. Closing these grassroots venues is narrowing the possible fanbase for up and coming stars.

As a musician and bandleader I couldn't tell you how many times someone has come to me wanting to know who originaly did one song or another, then that fan goes out and buys the cd. I don't recieve any commision for that. I'm happy to promote their music for them.

It would seem to me that (just like radio) the more something is played the more likely someone will hear it, like it and go and buy it.

As one who books bands for a small (very small) club I'm frustrated with all the organizations coming around blindly with their hand out expecting fees and threatening fines. We offer live music one night every two weeks. It's more a labor of love than a profit making venture. The owner just likes live music. (mostly blues) The groups probably make less money playing there than anywhere else in town but they come because they appreciate having somewhere else to play. If we have to pay licensing or fines the owner will shut it down. Then one less place where someone may hear your song.

Hopefully something, soon, will be done to make these organizations re-think their policies and practices.


New member

Copyright is there to protect musicians' work. If you purchase a CD, you pay a royalty (albeit small) to the artist. If you then go and play that work in a public forum others get to hear the artists' work without paying for the rights. As a published musicians I'm afraid I'm in agreement with copyright laws on this one ...
okay, here is my bitch, if you don't want your music heard do not publish it!! an example of what pisses me off, I own a small Bar, I pay the mafia 643.00 $ a year to have karoake once a month and a live band twice a year...custome hears a song sung live asks who that was, he nis given the artists name , he goes out and buys there album....where is my commission??? I would be very interested in seeing a photo copy of any checks you have recieved from bmi for royalities collected from people who are jsut trying to survive like myself

John Watt

I'm adding a little Canadian exposure to this topic, simply by adding,
that in the United States, there aren't any extradition laws for many financial crimes.
If you can rip off the rest of the world, and make it back home, you're untouchable.
If you buys your music, you can play it any way you want.
If artists sell out to manufacturers of plastic toys, they should be held responsible too.
It takes a minimum of two to make music, or use sound to communicate, and real music is live music.


New member
well, while it might be overkill, it's done to protect the interests of the artist.

piracy literally sucks the life out of the industry, point blank. it's direct loss of profits, and you can bet your ass that they're going to go cutthroat whenever they get a chance to fight it....even if it overreaches their boundaries like with instances like this.

not justifying what they're doing, just offering some insight as to why.

Corno Dolce

Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler
Does the artist or the composer ever see the lion's share of the profit from their talent, intellect, and hard work? In one word: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ASCAP is a racketeering outfit that should be prosecuted under the RICO Act. They have bilked the very composers and artists whom they claim to represent - ASCAP is Piracy on the High Seas.


Hark at the pot calling the kettle grimy ass