Copyrights & wrongs

Copyrights & wrongs

A local brewpub canceled an upcoming show of ours because they had just received a “cease and desist” from BMI, ASCAP and SESAC and were facing fees and possible penalties if they continued to have live music. Something about this stuck in my craw big time so I called BMI to find out more.

Now, the Mad Maggies material is registered with BMI. And I was happy to have their protection when NBC licensed our tune “Sleepy Maggie” for the Paul Haggis TV show, “The Black Donnellys“. BMI negotiates standard fees with film and TV industry and we benefited from that. But copyright licensing organizations do NOT help us independent musicians when they lean on small establishments who are trying to keep a live music scene going.

The person I spoke with at the Los Angeles offices was cordial. When I explained my agitation (I did not mention the brewpub specifically) she admitted that I wasn’t the first such phone call… I bet I wasn’t.

She directed me to the info on their website. “Food and Entertainment” licensing fees are based usually on occupancy – meaning the maximum capacity of a joint as determined by the Fire Department. It can run from 3-6 bucks per occupant per year. That’s not too crazy but then times it by three for the three societies. That adds a chunk to a venue’s operating expenses. But the really scary part is the penalties and threat of copyright infringement. A copyright infringement lawsuit can be ruinous financially.


So who is pushing for all this policing of small town watering holes? Certainly not the likes of us. I will not see this royalty money trickle into the Mad Maggies coffers. No, I’m pretty sure its the big name artists or, more accurately, the big corporations who own the publishing rights who keep the pressure on the copyright collecting societies. They want to squeeze every penny from anyplace they can. And I don’t like it. It means that fewer and fewer venues will offer live music lest they endure fees and exorbitant penalties. In this regard, BMI is not acting in my or any other small independent songwriter/performer’s interest.

MUST WATCH –> To open your eyes to who owns and controls media and how this control is impinging on creativity check out this documentary: RIP!: A Remix Manifesto

(Special thanks to Sean Pete for recommending this flick to us!)

Our culture has devolved into a corporate owned oligarchy. A handful of huge corporations own ALL of the media outlets and two enormous lobbys, the RIAA and MPAA work to ensure those hungry media behemoths get what they want. The existence of live music venues is being threatened by draconian measures. We indies may get a few paltry crumbs but if this kind of pressure on small establishments continues we’ll be getting even less.

I’m going to be exploring Creative Commons to see how we can resist this infringement on our ability to create and perform.

As for artistic choice and control being impeded by royalties, in the aforementioned Mad Maggies TV placement, NBC opted not to pay us certain royalties- online & worldwide — so they swapped our tune out of the episode and instead used a “canned” (royalty-free) Irish trad piece which weakened the scene considerably. Yep, an artistic decision determined by the accounting office based on copyright fees.