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BMI Beats Up On Karaoke Bars
By Moses Avalon
(more articles from this author)
2003-11-25
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I want to thank BMI. For years I have had to listen to God-awful amateurs try to sing "Born in the USA" via a Karaoke machine in just about every local bar I go to. BMI is going to put a stop to that.

Jealous that the RIAA gets to sue everyone for piracy, BMI is sending their own type of litigious message; they sued an Indianapolis Karaoke bar for not paying them licensing fees for the pop tunes that are part of the karaoke juke box in the bar.

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The lawsuit claims that Parrotheads Bar and Grill failed to pay licensing fees for using songs such as ``God Bless the USA'' and ``Old Time Rock and Roll," during their weekly Karaoke night.

Many songwriters view BMI as the cops of performance royalties, without which, songwriters would see virtually no money from juke boxes, radio play and arena performances. However, in a climate where the record industry has appeared overly litigious, this action will likely be met with some public retaliation. Especially in light of the fact that BMI lost some significant ground some years back in Federal court; restaurants argued that people come there for the food not the music and so the they should not have to pay performance fees for the tunes they play while you dine.

BMI argued that they should then try selling food & drinks without music and see how well their business does. A logical argument that courts did not buy. They decided that a restaurant with only 14 tables or under 1500 square feet was exempt from payments to BMI and ASCAP. This decision has cost songwriters tens of millions a year according to BMI spokespersons.

So, after sitting at the losing end of one can't lose argument, let's hope, for the songwriters' sake, that BMI has changed lawyers for their Karaoke campaign and hired a decent PR company.

Will this mean we can kiss Karaoke nights goodbye? Please, don't tease me.

Many legal-eagles will be watching this one. Considering that the maximum damages that I think BMI can seek is about $1000 per venue, I'm not sure this has the same sharp, sexy teeth that the RIAA suit does with its potential claims of $150,000 per infringement.


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