Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

March 28, 2014

Pay to Play: Cover songs will cost you

TRAVERSE CITY — Sing your heart out.*

*as long as your heart contains original, uncopyrighted material, to the exclusion, forthwith, of the same old song and dance.

Please, even if you feel “Little Bridge Over Trouble Water” gushing out, let not a trickle escape. It could break more than the “Achy Breaky Heart” of small live music venues like Horizon Books downtown Traverse City.

Megan Jordan-Case pulled the plug on an act that tried to sneak some Simon and Garfunkel into the bookstore’s Live Music Fridays, she said.

“We have to protect ourselves,” Jordan-Case said. She coordinates free local acts in Horizon Book’s downstairs cafe. “We don’t have $30,000 for fines.”

Every musician gets “the talk” about the bookstore’s ironclad policy requiring performers to provide two-hour sets of their own material. Investigators from performance rights organizations made the rounds last spring, putting the fear of fines into live music venues, Jordan-Case said.

“We’re just a bookstore. We don’t even charge cover,” Jordan-Case said, simply. “We’d be done.”

Investigators for performance rights organizations, PROs, like the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, ASCAP, Broadcast Music, Inc., BMI, and SESAC can turn up anywhere, any time, to enforce copyright law that holds venue owners responsible for the music people play on the premises.

PROs collect licensing fees to redistribute as royalties to the people who write the music. Violations can cost $750 to $150,000 per song played.

Navigating the changing, litigious world of live music copyright in an age of cut-and-paste plagiarism and downloadable music requires constant study — or a ready checkbook.

“Four places come to us with their hands out,” said Mike Lloyd. The General Manager/partner at North Peak Brewing Company, which falls under Mission Management, buys blanket licenses from all three PROs, plus another for karaoke.

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