SLO coffee shop facing legal pressure from music industry

December 19, 2012

Two music-licensing firms with clients ranging from Lady Gaga to Jay-Z have taken interest in acts performed by amateurs at a San Luis Obispo coffee lounge — which has put an end to “open mic night.”

Representatives of Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) and the Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) say that Kreuzberg, CA is illegally allowing performers to incorporate copyrighted songs into their acts at the downtown San Luis Obispo coffee shop and café. Both firms, which collect license fees and distribute royalties to their clients, have contacted Kreuzberg and have ordered the large coffee shop to purchase music licenses or discontinue allowing copyrighted material in performances.

Kreuzberg owner James Whitaker said he is well aware of the copyright infringement complaints.

“I’m getting letters from BMI attorneys like twice a week, and we’re getting called everyday,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker said he has suspended Kreuzberg’s weekly “open mic night,” the primary target of the copyright complaints, and that he would decide in the next week on how the business will handle the demands of the licensing agencies.

But, the Kreuzberg owner indicated that he would most likely not purchase the music licenses and opt instead to prohibit the performance of licensed songs at all events in his coffee house. Whitaker said that BMI is asking for a “huge, exorbitant fee.”

“We’re a small local business, not a big corporation,” Whitaker said. “We can’t afford to do that.”

Whitaker said Kreuzberg is being targeted because of the large square footage of the Higuera Street shop.

“We are like the biggest coffee shop ever.”

BMI spokesman Blair Keso confirmed that the size of a venue factors into the rate of a licensing fee and that Kreuzberg would have to pay a steep price for a coffee shop.

“The size of the place would require a very large licensing fee for a very small business,” Keso said.

Whitaker said he must look out for the survival of the business, even if it comes at the cost of open mic night.

“I’m a huge fan of local music. I’m a huge fan of open mic night,” Whitaker said. “I need to look out for the survival of the restaurant over one event once a week.”

Neither Keso, nor other BMI spokespeople disclosed the figure that the firm planned to charge Kreuzberg. However, an ASCAP spokesman told CalCoastNews the exact price his organization planned to charge Kreuzberg for an annual music license.

“They have a seating capacity of 50, and it would be $336,” ASCAP spokesman Vincent Candilora said.

Candilora added that Kreuzberg could purchase a discounted annual license at $304.02 if it the business chose to pay in full. The license would cover each of the approximately 8.5 million songs ASCAP licenses.

The ASCAP spokesman did not indicate, though, which copyrighted songs performed at Kreuzberg belong to clients of his firm. Neither did BMI spokespeople.

While the ASCAP license fee may cost significantly less than BMI’s rate, allowing the performance of songs licensed by ASCAP, but not by BMI, could prove troublesome. ASCAP claims to handle the licensing of about 1 million more songs than BMI. But, BMI still claims to represent clients with the combined rights to more than 7.5 million songs.

Both BMI and ASCAP have contacted Kreuzberg many times in regard to copyright infringement. Keso said BMI issued a cease and desist order to Kreuzberg, which the company says it does only after making numerous phone calls and sending letters and marketing material. Candilora said ASCAP representatives have emailed Kreuzberg and spoken with Whitaker on his cell phone. An ASCAP licensing manager also left a card inside Kreuzberg in March, Candilora said.

Candilora described the work of ASCAP licensing managers as similar to marketers who generate leads and produce sales. He said ASCAP sales representatives often approach new businesses that open in their areas. Kreuzberg, which has only been in business for two years, opened at its current location a little more than a year ago.

While BMI and ASCAP each seem to want to woo Kreuzeberg into becoming a licensee, they do pose legal threats to the coffee house. Candilora said ASCAP sues about 250 to 300 copyright violators each year.

“We only take legal action as a very, very last resort,” Candilora said. “It’s not in the best interest of our members to be suing people.”

BMI issued a similar statement pertaining to their encounter with Kreuzberg.

“BMI would prefer to educate, not litigate, and most times we are successful in this effort when business owners understand that music is a songwriter’s property.”

Both BMI and ASCAP supported the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) introduced in the U.S. House of Representative in October 2011. If passed, SOPA would require Internet service providers to block access to websites containing material infringing on copyrights.

 


29 Comments

  1. topper01 says:

    It all sounds like a good ole fashion shake down, Jessie Jackson style.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. The Gimlet Eye says:

    Visionary internet activist Aaron Swartz found dead; was this brilliant internet revolutionary ‘taken out?’

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    Who benefits? Hollywood and all its tyrannical copyright-pushing maniacs who want to criminalize anyone who downloads a movie off the internet.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. Slowerfaster says:

    I knew these guys were cheapskates the first time I talked with them about providing quality live music. They would rather have amateurs that play to kids that don’t know good from bad.
    Their skinflintiness is what drove Steve Key away ..and NO, I’m not Steve.
    I hope the first time these stuckups have some no-brain college kid sing “Happy Birthday” or a lame “Fire and Rain” they get the bill for $10,000 for copywright imfringement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 10

    • Ted Slanders says:

      Brother Slowerfaster,

      I too wanted to provide music to this establishment by having wonderful and beautiful Christian women out front singing in the name of the Lord.

      We wanted to use Christian songs from such Christian music notables like Jeremy Camp, Matt Redman, Bethany Dillon, et al. These musicians had private Christian music labels. After calling them using a wire connection, the costs of doing their songs was to great.

      Before our phone conversation ended, I informed these Christian musicians of the following passage; “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many grief’s.” (Timothy 6:10) After reading this passage to them, they all hung up on me.

      It’s to bad that it didn’t work out because the caveat to this show was that I was going to preach from the bible to the audience when the singers took a break. How can you beat that? A twofer!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 8

      • Slowerfaster says:

        PRAISE !

        What a missed opportunity. I am hoping that you had recruited a number of faith sisters with ample, preponderant lungs …for the singing, of course.

        Anything in the name of Christ !

        We could even construct a “Jesus Pole” for them to glorify the saviour with holy dance.

        HALLELUJAH !

        Imagine the crowd that would draw ! …And the collections for the ministry !

        Too bad ….

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 8

  4. choprzrul says:

    Something needs done to make copyright laws fair to all. This poor shop owner shouldn’t have to endure this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 7

  5. obispan says:

    I know a restaurant owner who got a threatening extortion call from BMI that music was played in her restaurant and she needed to pay. It was just 95.3, a classic rock station, in the background.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  6. my.02 says:

    This makes me feel like ASSCAP or BM or whatever the current acronym, is going to issue me a citation for breaking out my guitar at a campfire. How long before music teachers won’t be able to teach us our favorite songs to help bring “Joy to the World?”

    As for Mr. Whitaker, his business has grounded a significant improvement to a part of town where a friend of mine was severely beaten several years ago in broad daylight by two guys who probably spent most of their time sitting on that sidewalk playing protected songs and demanding “Money for Nothing”…. Kinda like ASSCAP and BM.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 4

  7. godislanguage says:

    BMI & ASCAP = Corporate Gorilla Bully? Not sure.

    if i owned a coffee shop, i would allow anyone to sing as long as it wasn’t noise.

    i wouldn’t provide electricity or any other special treatment than to my other customers

    i would then have to pay a $5,000 to $10,000 retainer for a lawyer to protect me from civil action from BMI & ASCAP and threaten them with a counter-suit of harassment if I chose not to pay the what? $360 + $500? per year to mitigate copyright infringement?

    Well post a sign that says a 1 cent tax is going towards BMI & ASCAP and be done with it. People will understand and you can’t tell me a coffes shop can’t pay the tax/fee with 8,600 cups of coffee a year.

    Or the coffee shop could have a BMI & ASCAP hat or jar people can stuff a buck in or their change…marketing for all talents.

    It’s a business decision and we are a nation of laws.

    Mice nuts…were all in this together

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8

  8. r0y says:

    HEY! *You* didn’t build that!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

    • Slowerfaster says:

      HEY ! “You” didn’t write that song !

      If these cheapskate venue owners did have to pony up, then real musicians would not have to compete with the no-talent posers, and would be paid what we’re worth.
      Instead, the pro musicians around here are lumped with all of the wannabe posersthat think they can make it on American Idle.

      30 years ago, a good band made $500 a night. Even a lesser quality band could make $350.
      Now, we get junk open mic and Krappie-okie, while the good players can’t even scrape the bones for gas.

      Course, America is flocked anyway…a dumbing down , race to the bottom that has been won by idiots and the super-rich.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

  9. common sense says:

    I will agree with following comment…………….If you’ve ever dealt with Whittaker, you’d know why. The man is haughty and self-absorbed — his arrogance is legendary. That kind of attitude would get you on anyone’s radar fast.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 9

Comments are closed.