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Legal issues of music?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by GeorgeR, Jan 6, 2001.

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  1. GeorgeR


    Nov 5, 2000
    I‘d like to know, from other musicians, what are the legal issues surrounding the public performance of music that you (yourself) have not written, whether for free or for money.
    For example: If I were in a small band, if we played mostly for fun, as amateurs, and on occasion (maybe once every couple of months) actually made a few hundred $ for playing, and if during our public performances (paid or free, either way) we chose to play music such as "Who‘s crying now" from "Foreigner" or say "Babe" from "Styx", or any other song which was popular back about 20 years ago, would our group end up being sued by the publisher or composer because we played their song, even if from memory (since we don‘t actually have anything written, we‘d sort-of reverse engineer the song, figuring it out just by listening to it)?
  2. Good question.

    I'm not sure, but I *think* you or the club has to pay royalties. Of course you don't have to do this when you aren't playing for the public. But you might want to listen to someone else. :p
  3. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Peformance rights for popular songs generally are administered by two "rights clearinghouses": ASCAP and BMI. (There are others, like SESAC.) The performance venue, rather than the performer, is usually responsible for obtaining and maintaining licenses for performance rights, for the simple reason that the venue has deeper pockets than most musicians. The licenses are almost always blanket licenses, which permit performers to play any song in ASCAP and BMI's catalog.

    Translation: you shouldn't face any liability for live performances alone. Recordings, on the other hand...
    Dominic DeCosa likes this.
  4. GeorgeR


    Nov 5, 2000
    No, not about recordings, just occasional, very small public performances, a number of private performances, all often for free, sometimes getting a little money for our trouble or to cover our travel expenses, but still, mostly for free.
    (Personally, I can‘t write to save my life but I get good inspiration from other music.)
    I wouldn‘t know who or where to pay money, not that I have any money to pay, since I do most of my music for free anyways, and if pressed to ‘pay up‘, well the old saying goes, you can‘t get blood from a stone.
    Anyway, just wondering....another thought......since lots of folks don‘t really admire Bill Gates for his business practices, Microsoft‘s anti-competitive nature, Billy‘s greed (and mediocre wares), yet we‘re still obliged to pay into his pot of gold even for DOS, how do Bill Gates‘ royalties compare, in concept, to what happens in music, where we charge each other money for accessing music?
    Or is there, as in Linux, a general public licence in place, where one is free to access, use, modify and redistribute, as long as the concept of free and uninhibited access (in otherwords as long as I respect that I didn‘t have to pay for it, I should respect the next person‘s right to equally free access) is maintained, for the sake of the musician‘s craft and all who wish to continue the practice of music? (see http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.txt for details on this concept in Linux computer software)

  5. Faraday


    Jun 20, 2012
    It doesn't matter whether the performance is small, for free, occasional, or even a charity event. It doesn't matter if you reverse engineered the song. That is a form of copying.

    What matters is whether it is a public performance. If you are jamming in someone's basement and it is not an event open to anyone but a few friends, it's not a public performance.

    If you play at a tiny coffee shop that is open to the public, that is a public performance no matter how small or occasional. If the coffee shop has licenses from ASCAP et al and the songs you play have their rights administered by the licensors, your live performance in the coffee shop will be covered by the shop's blanket license and you are okay. Otherwise you are infringing and if the publisher, or more likely, a field rep of a licensing organization discovers it, you and the coffee shop are liable.

    Are you likely to be discovered? That is another question, but if you are, you are liable. None of your "little guy" factors are defenses.
  6. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    You do realize this is a thread from about 15 years ago, right?
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  7. Dominic DeCosa

    Dominic DeCosa Habitual Line-Stepper Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 9, 2008
    Vero Beach, Florida
    DiCosimo Audio
    Incorrect. The venue, not the musician, is responsible. Here's a quote from the BMI website:

    "Since it’s the business or organization that’s benefiting from the performance of music, management is responsible for ensuring that the organization is properly licensed. This responsibility cannot be passed on to anyone else even if the musicians hired are independent contractors."

    Here's a quote from ASCAP:

    "Some people mistakenly assume that musicians and entertainers must obtain licenses to perform copyrighted music or that businesses where music is performed can shift their responsibility to musicians or entertainers. The law says all who participate in, or are responsible for, performances of music are legally responsible. Since it is the business owner who obtains the ultimate benefit from the performance, it is the business owner who obtains the license. Music license fees are one of the many costs of doing business."
  8. Spent


    May 15, 2011
    Upstate NY
    Zombie (thread) Alert!
  9. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    The band, no. The venue? Maybe, if there's some PRO goon in the audience.
  10. Faraday


    Jun 20, 2012
    Sorry. I didn't mean to resurrect the zombie thread. I jumped from another site where the threads are chronologically numbered in the reverse direction. I should have paid more attention.

    In any case, there is some misinterpretation of the licensing agency site texts. The point of the texts is that as far as the agencies are concerned, the venues need a license and can't claim that because a band is doing the performing the venue can't be held liable. (The agencies' position has been upheld in numerous court challenges.)

    It doesn't mean the band is not liable. It is directly infringing by reason of its performance. That is not controversial. The band can't say it is not liable for doing the actual infringing. The agencies can, if they wish, go after the band. And they have in cases where the band has been warned not to perform copyrighted works in unlicensed venues.

    The agency sites talk about venues because it is easier to police venues and venues notoriously claim they did not perform the infringing songs or they didn't know that a band would play anything infringing - which would be true if the band performed only original works. The point of the site text is the agencies' (accurate) claim that the venue is responsible for infringement on its premises (without that removing the band's liability for its direct infringement - both can be held liable, altbough the venue usually has more money to pay up and more incentive to, so the agencies usually target it).

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