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Tuesday
Jan052010

Taylor Swift BMI Lawsuit

So as I’m sure you have heard, BMI has filed a lawsuit against a small Idaho sports bar for neglecting to pay licenses for playing songs specifically by major label contractee Taylor Swift. It never fails to amaze me how licensing companies like BMI, ASCAP and SEASAC don’t hesitate at a chance to sue considerably smaller establishments for lack of “proper licenses.”  What is more shocking though, is the fact that though Taylor Swift is named as a plaintiff in the suit, she technically will have no say in the proceedings and probably won’t even be present for any hearings. BMI will control all aspects of this case, seeing as they pay substantially for full-time teams of impenetrable lawyers, just for such an occasion. It is also worth noting that WHEN BMI either wins the suit in court or as a result of a settlement, Taylor Swift will directly receive no monies whatsoever.  

The reason these cases are NEVER lost by these titans of trickery is because they stand behind one of the oldest and most well established laws of our time: Copyright Law. For a judge to throw out this case would be the equivalent of throwing out the whole almost 100 year old law all together, in terms of setting precedent, and this simply won’t happen. Unfortunately these companies are also well aware of this fact, and they tend to use this weight to throw at anyone they please. 

So why do they stoop to suing small bars and retail stores in small inconsequential markets who are simply trying to supply their customers with an enjoyable atmosphere? Because they can, so they do. Remember this behavior when considering signing up with one of these companies, and let it serve as a warning to stay away. They use the payments they receive from their contractees to pay these lawyers, then sue on the behalf of a particular contractee, using even their name in the case, and then claim any monies received as a result for themselves. Does it sound like their best interests are protecting their client’s copyrights, or do they seem motivated by other, more lucrative proceedings. Unfortunately the 3 major companies occupying this market all are set up almost identically despite small insignificant differences in some policies. It turns out these companies are almost completely useless for any artist that is not at least nationally known, despite their high rate of independent artist contract renewals. Even many major artists have complained about not getting paid royalties for all of their on air appearances or performances, claiming their music was aired far more times than what they were compensated for. It seems they exist merely for the privilege of acting as an initial filter of any money that would be directed toward an artist for use of their work, while hiding behind the facade of nobly protecting the artist’s rights.  

The key word of 2010 for independent artists need be “Patience!” These are problems that have been around for years and years, and despite the drastic changes the industry has seen, these problems and their initiators  still seem to be up to the same old tricks. However with the realization of the potential of the internet on the industry, possibilities for new organizations and independent bonds are greatly increased and alternatives will begin to appear as soon as the middle of 2010. Keep your ear to the ground for those alternatives, I can assure you, they are coming. But until then, just focus on making good music! It should come as no surprise that this is what will matter most in the end after all.  

Written By: Dante Cullari - Founder & President Beat-Play, LLC

Reader Comments (7)

Isn't collecting license fees from music users and ensuring that music users obtain the appropriate licensing the only reason collective rights administration societies such as BMI exist? Isn't that the reason why artists sign up with them in the first place?

Would Taylor Swift, or any musician for that matter, be better off if she went around securing licensing deals with everyone who wished to use her music as either a core offer of their business (such as music radio) or as supplementary added value (as in the case of bars and pubs)? Prior to the establishment of collective administration societies, most uses of a composer's work were unpaid, if only because the users had no legal obligation to do so, nor did the composer have the resources to monitor how his music was used.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: promises of a brighter tomorrow don't pay the bills. As such, I'll ignore the entire last paragraph and advise everyone else to do the same.

Except the "make great music" bit.

First of all, how many "music users" do you know that pay licensing fees? The average user far out numbers the amount of larger establishments that actually do pay the fees, and the majority of music fans pirate their music or get it for free and share it. So are the small amount of license payers even relevant when the average non commercial user has access to the music without paying fees anytime they want anyway. Why waste money going after establishments (small ones at that) that are just offering things that everyone else gets for free. There literally is nothing the labels or the rights administration societies can do about piracy. The cat is out of the bag and it ain't goin back. They need to find a new way that allows the sharing of music in a way that allows the artists to be fairly compensated for their work.

Second of all, in response to: "Prior to the establishment of collective administration societies, most uses of a composer's work were unpaid, if only because the users had no legal obligation to do so, nor did the composer have the resources to monitor how his music was used."

When was that? 1913? We have a little thing called the internet now, which is just the resource to monitor how, when, where, and even why music is used. Prince made a comment on a TV show the other week about how he still doesn't know how much Purple Rain sold, because he feels something shady went down with the retail stores and counting the sales. They're conducting an audit now. However with an online system/community for artists, that allows the artists to give their music away for free, track ALL of their listeners, sharers, profiles views, video plays, ect, while getting paid via an unobtrusive ad model, this problem can be a thing of the past. The internet is the key, and the solution to all of the current problems, if implemented correctly. I am more than confident of that. These companies aren't concerned with finding solution to the artist's problems, just concerned with squeezing out every last drop the current industry model has to offer while it still exists. This suit is great proof.

January 6 | Unregistered CommenterDante Cullari

BMI ASCAP and SESAC aren't publishing companies or record label. They act on behalf of songwriters like me to make sure that they are paid for the songs they wrote by the people that play them in a public format. As a songwriter, they are great and have created a standard way to report and collect performance royalties.

Copyright law was enacted, and improved over time to protect me, the songwriter not to screw small businesses out of money. The truth is they could use open domain, license free music in their store, but they don't. I also know that all performance rights organizations give plenty of time and ways for establishments to make good on royalty payments, which aren't that much anyways.

As for independent artists, BMI ASCAP and SESAC make up a big portion of what makes music possible for us. They contribute far more to our income than record sales or live shows. Artists that don't license out their music and who aren't relying on BMI ASCAP and SESAC to ensure their copyrighted music ins't be used unpaid for don't survive. Anyone in the industry will tell you publishing is where you money comes from, whether you're on a label or an independent.

July 2 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Why can't song writters be paid like the rest of us??? I build a house, a car, whatever, I sell it, I get paid. The end. I dont get paid everytime that house or car gets resold.

The way I see it, small venues do these people a service. They promote the product.

Also, why isnt there just one blanket license? I buy a license and I get to use the music any way I want to. Instead they figure how many people can possible fit in a venue, not how many are acutally there on any given night, is there a dance floor, is there a cover charge, are the bands playing, karaoke, DJ's??? And there are separate fees for each based on fire code occupancy numbers!!! Theses collection agencies are helping to kill of several small businesses in small towns and nothing can be done about it.

June 1 | Unregistered Commentertrav

I have a small bar in a town of approximately 2,000 people. I have recently become the victim of BMI harassment. I honestly would not mind paying a one-time fee for playing music in my establishment but paying $300. per year is more than I can afford. In small towns establishments usually do not collect cover charges for nights when bands or DJs perform. Establishments in small towns also very seldom profit from having bands or DJs, they barely make enough to pay for the entertainment. I believe that BMI attacks small business because they realize small business doesn't have the money to fight back. Bands and DJs are actually doing songwriters a favor in promoting thier music, encouraging people to go out and purchase it. I for one will not hire another band or DJ in my establishment because I can't afford the fee. Small business is slowly being disolved by not only government taxes, fees, and licenses but also companies such as BMI who want thier piece of the pie.

May 25 | Unregistered Commentersooz

The problem is that the money is put in the pot and only benefits those who have radio songs. The harassment against small bars, is one thing - but the harassment of small bars playing only unsigned Artist's original music, that's not on Radio, is contemptible. The way around this is to have Artists sign a paper that they are only playing their own originals. The PROs can't legally harass these bars - and if they do - tell them to check with their lawyers. There's a legal exemption...

By way of introduction I'll tell you a little of my history; I'm 65 years old, and have been a professional musician/songwriter/entertainer for longer than I usually care to admit. I've played in the US Navy Band, theaters and every other venue imaginable, for a living and sometimes just for the love of it.

Times are tough here in America and for the pro musician it is worse than I've ever seen it. My colleges and I are being paid less and have fewer opportunities to play than ever.

So, to add insult to injury, ASCAP, BMI, and I suppose SESAC, through coercion and mob-like threats have directly caused a considerable number of venues to discontinue live music. I am one of many who fallen victim to this oppressive pay to play bullying.

March 29 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

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