The music industry isn't in the best shape at the moment. How are record labels, performance rights organizations and artists hoping to make up for plunging revenues and non-existent profits? They're taking aim at New York bars and clubs, that's how. Earlier this week, BMI and collection of labels and artists filed suit against Pianos on the Lower East Side for having the nerve to play hits like the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" and Poison's "Talk Dirty to Me" without having the permission to do so. You didn't think the day would come when Bret Michaels would be facing off against a bar on Ludlow Street? That day has arrived!
A bar or club isn't technically allowed to play a copy written song without first securing the appropriate licenses from the performance rights group—such as ASCAP or BMI—that represent songwriters. Enforcement has traditionally been pretty lax over the years, although every once in a while, the organizations file a lawsuit to remind venue owners that they exist. In 2007, for example, ASCAP filed suits against a handful of spots, including Jay-Z's 40/40 and Hiro at the Maritime Hotel. More recently, ASCAP and BMI slapped Cafe Wha? with a suit back in March.
This time around BMI is turning its attention to the Lower East Side and coming down on Pianos, claiming the venue caused "great and incalculable damage" for illegally playing such favorites as "Say It Ain't So" by Rivers Cuomo; the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black"; and your fave hit from 1986, "Final Countdown".
Before you leap to the defense of Pianos, its worth noting that securing the rights isn't all that expensive. A blanket license from ASCAP, for example, supposedly goes for as little as a dollar a day. So you'd think clubs would just avoid the potential legal complications and pay the fees, especially since a club or bar will probably pay many times that if it's forced to hire a lawyer to defend it from a suit like this. Or, you know, not. The lawsuit against Pianos is below.
Photo: Phillip Ritz @ Flickr