ASCAP (ESCAPE) TO WINE COUNTRY
What should you do when copyright owners come a-knockin’?
Wineries throughout Sonoma and Napa Valley have recently received legal notices from copyright owner groups, threatening legal action for unauthorized live and recorded musical performances in their tasting rooms, etc. which feature songs subject to copyright protection.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) are two of the most prominent performing rights societies which collect license royalties for the public performance of musical works in their catalogs. Public performance is defined broadly under the Copyright Act to include both live performances (aka “covers”) and recorded music played on the radio, on television, or online (e.g., via regular Pandora, without a business account). Performing rights societies are well-known for bringing suit when their on-the-ground surveillance reveals that a commercial establishment is allowing public performance to take place without an appropriate license.
Since tasting rooms are commercial establishments which fall outside of the private listening license that typically applies when you purchase music, playing music in a commercial environment (i.e., outside the “normal circle of friends and family”) constitutes an actionable copyright infringement of the public performance right of the copyright owner. Businesses that fail to pay the licensing fees of the copyright owner society (such as ASCAP) will be liable for copyright infringement, potentially including an award of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. See, e.g.,: http://www.ascap.com/press/2015/0527-venues-refuse-to-pay.aspx
If you have not yet been contacted by ASCAP or BMI and know that you are not in compliance but still want to play music in your tasting room, your best strategy would be to subscribe to a provider that will cover licensing obligations with ASCAP and BMI, such as Sirius XM Music for Business or Pandora for Business. (Note that such plans typically do not cover paid entry or dancing.)
Chris Passarelli is Senior IP counsel at Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty with experience in copyright and trademark issues facing the food & beverage, hospitality and entertainment industries. Contact Chris here.