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37 Main sued for copyright infringement; owner says it's a misunderstanding
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Downtown Gainesville business 37 Main is accused of copyright infringement in a lawsuit for allegedly playing music without a license. - photo by Scott Rogers

Broadcast Music Inc., a corporation that controls the public performance rights for millions of songs, filed a civil lawsuit last month against 37 Main in Gainesville alleging copyright infringement.

One of the restaurant’s owners, David White, said he believes there is a misunderstanding.

BMI alleged in a July 23 complaint 10 claims of “willful copyright infringement, based upon (37 Main’s) unauthorized public performance of musical compositions from the BMI repertoire,” according to the complaint.

“By continuing to provide unauthorized public performances of works in the BMI repertoire at the establishment, defendants threaten to continue committing copyright infringement. Unless this court restrains defendants from committing further acts of copyright infringement, plaintiffs will suffer irreparable injury for which they have no adequate remedy at law,” according to the complaint.

White said there is a service for playing music videos that is rented from a company in California.

“They had told me they pay the music license from BMI, (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and (the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers), so we’ll have to find out if they’re right or wrong on that one. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s just a misunderstanding, but I’ve replied to them to find out for sure,” White said.

White said this was the first time he’s faced an issue like this.

The infringement allegations are from Jan. 17 and include songs such as “American Pie” by Don McLean, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin and “Old Time Rock and Roll” by George Jackson and Thomas E. Jones III.

The suit is seeking statutory damages and the cessation of any infringement.

“The penalties for copyright infringement are outlined in the U.S. Copyright Law and can range from $750 per work infringed up to $150,000 in damages if it is found to be willful infringement, but most of these cases are settled out of court. We never want to see things escalate to a lawsuit which is why we spend so much time trying to educate business owners about the value that music brings to their establishment, the requirements of copyright law, and the importance of maintaining a music license,” said Jodie Thomas, executive director for corporate communications and media relations for BMI.

Thomas said a BMI music license can cost at a minimum $378 annually, with factors such as size, the types of performance and frequency affecting the price.

The application for the license also sets prices based on numbers of patrons, they type of venue and whether the venue charges a cover charge. The licenses for larger venues can run in the thousands of dollars.

BMI makes clear the onus is on the venue, and not individual bands, many of which play “covers,” an individual band’s version of a hit song.

According to BMI’s 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.