Lula, with a population of less than 3,000 residents, can no longer fly under the radar.
It seems the city’s festivals that draws crowds to food, fun and music have caught the attention of SESAC — a major music licensing company.
SESAC sent Lula a letter telling city officials they have to basically pay to play.
Mayor Milton Turner’s gut inclination was to ignore the letter. Although he thought it outrageous that Lula would have to pay a fee for musicians and singers to perform at city festivals, Turner relented and asked for a legal opinion from the city attorney.
The advice earlier this week from City Attorney Blake Poole at a Lula City Council meeting was not what elected officials wanted to hear.
“If the city wants to play or allow to be played music on city property, and it’s music owned or copyrights owned by this business, SESAC, you got to get a business license,” Poole reported to council. “They own copyrights to almost all the music produced in this country. They are by far the largest copyright business for music.”
City Manager Dennis Bergin said SESAC has a fee schedule based on population. He said Lula would pay $397 annually, as would any other venue with a population of 25,000 or less.
Turner said that during the city’s Fall Festival, performers did a song that SESAC has the rights to.
“They kind of nailed us,” the mayor admitted.
Lula is hardly the exception. Attorneys representing municipal associations throughout the country warn elected officials that local governments can incur substantial liability by failing to obtain a license to use copyrighted music in their programs and activities.
In a brief to the North Carolina League of Municipalities, General Counsel Kim Hibbard warned that copyright owners can seek actual or statutory damages of up to $30,000 per infringement or $150,000 per infringement if committed wilfully.
Poole strongly recommended Lula officials to make the $397 expenditure “to protect the city’s interest and ensure they won’t come after us.”
City council voted unanimously to cough up the fee.