Live Music Is Nice, But Buying Performance Licenses Could Be Nicer

By Rebecca Beitsch
Stateline.org

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Under federal copyright law, artists must be compensated when their music is played in a commercial setting, whether it’s a recording played at a dive bar or an acoustic cover performed live at a winery.

Stateline.org

It started with letters. Then came the phone calls, and a guy on the other end of the line who kept saying, “If you don’t pay, we’ll have to sue.”

Les Meyer felt threatened. And how the heck did they know he featured live music at his little winery in rural Nebraska?

“They wouldn’t identify themselves, and they try to trap you into things,” said Meyer, who owns Capitol View Winery and Vineyards outside of Lincoln. “He asks, ‘If I like the music can I get up and dance?’ I say, ‘I wouldn’t be offended.’ Next thing I know he’s claiming I offer dances, and that’s a bigger fee.”

Under federal copyright law, artists must be compensated when their music is played in a commercial setting, whether it’s a recording played at a dive bar or an acoustic cover performed live at a winery. It’s performance rights organizations’ job to collect that money for their artist and songwriter clients.

But threatening small-business owners, calling them after hours, and using offensive and coercive language? State lawmakers say none of that is OK, so they’re enacting laws to stop it.

In addition to owning a winery, Meyer happens to be a lobbyist for the Nebraska Winery and Grape Growers Association, and this year he helped persuade state lawmakers to enact a law that levies fines on performance rights organizations whose representatives use “obscene, abusive, or profane language” or “engage in coercive conduct.”

Meyer soon realized that the claims in the calls, even if impolitely delivered, were accurate.

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