FREE THE MUSIC: Monthly ad-hoc bluegrass jam vs ASCAP/BMI

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Joined: 10 Jul 2007
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FREE THE MUSIC: Monthly ad-hoc bluegrass jam vs ASCAP/BMI

I go to a loosely organized once-monthly bluegrass jam hosted by a local burger joint. In addition to seasoned musicians, students and beginners are encouraged to participate. We play mostly traditional pieces: gospel tunes, fiddle tunes like "Red Wing" and "Soldier's Joy" and things like "Rocky Top." Due to limited parking being used up by musicians, hosting the jam was actually hurting the owner's business so it had to be moved to Mondays, on his slowest night.
The owner was recently contacted by ASCAP and BMI demanding $1,400 per year in licensing fees!
...and that is only two of the four prominent licensing organizations. Needless to say, ASCAP will probably suceed in killing this jam session.

I also go to a slow jam that is open to anyone that can count to four and shake a rattle in time with the music. Apparently, if anyone other than your mother and best friend are listening, it is deemed "public performance" and therefore requires a license. For the sake of other Anchorage musicians, I hope the other listed jams hosted at local cafes and coffee houses don't meet with the same fate. Who are the ASCAP nerds that go around takin' names, anyway? Why would you go out of your way to kill an amateur jam session? Maybe they are just frustrated musicians that didn't get the chance for a solo break. I don't know about your jams, but at ours, even the most rank beginner is offered a break and is politely tolerated and encouraged, even if it doesn't sound that good to begin with. FREE THE MUSIC

Ken Brown
Anchorage, AK

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Brrr, a chilling post

I've seen similar topics in discussions among house concert folks and for small venues that have live (paid) entertainment, but I had not heard of public jam venues being harassed.

most chilling so far

I know the large bluegrass club that operates in our area passes a donation bucket at the monthly open mic and acoustic jam... maybe they have 210 million dollars set aside just in case.


Still Chilling

The worse part of this situation is that BMI doesn't do squat for the musician who's only cut one or five CD's and is going from gig to gig trying to make money performing and selling CD's. The $1,400 pays the big boys like Elton John, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney for use of their tunes. BMI sends in stoolies to bars not displaying their marker and woe to the establishment who even plays elevator music in the women's john. You or the bar owner might have a case if you can prove all the music ever played was public domain but good luck.

Joined: 10 Jan 2007
Groups: None
Here's an introduction to the whole morass:

You might want to take a couple of aspirin now... you're gonna have a headache before you're done...

The Better Business Bureau explains "Music in the Marketplace"
About BMI & GL
16: Who Is Responsible for Public Performance Fees If Musicians Are Playing Live Music?
If the musical performance is taking place on the premises, the establishment is responsible for obtaining public performance rights. This responsibility cannot be passed on to anyone else even if musicians hired by management are independent contractors and exceed or ignore specific instructions on what music can or cannot be played. Since it

Joined: 10 Aug 2009
Groups: None
BMI ASCAP Unfair to Folksingers

I have been in the music business successfully since 1959 and sang and played with Pete Seeger, Dave Van Ronk and others, and have been involved in over 350 albums of recorded music over the past half century. I totally resent the intrusion of BMI and ASCAP in open mic and free venues and their claim that "there is no longer any such thing as public domain". They demand money if I sing my own songs and they demand money if I sing folk songs, even if they are 400 years old! They are killing the music business with their unmitigated corporate (or is it mafia???) greed, and they are making it impossible for young musicians and oldtimers such as myself to give to the public, to -- as Pete Seeger often said, "Do something for others not for profit". I plan to continue to host and participate in park concerts, and am planning sunday jam sessions in my meditation center just to show that I can't be scared into paying blackmail/extortion to anyone. I am looking into withdrawing from BMI and plan to join the massive class-action suit against them and the other organizations who have decided to punish musicians and the free venues that host them!

Joined: 25 Nov 2009
Groups: None
Kenn Brown's BS


Your post is chock full of misinformation. To begin with, there are only three performing rights groups, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the USA. There is no fourth. Any credibility you want to establish flows from getting that simple fact correct.

So, let's see... You have admitted that your jam group performs copyrighted music in public (oh yes you have). OK, I believe that. The venue doesn't want to pay. I get that, too. So, because the venue doesn't want to pay the songwriters for the music you perform, BMI et all are out to get you? I'm sorry, that's quite a leap of logic and, frankly, isn't true. ASCAP doesn't care about you. The PROs were organized to protect the songwriters, not you.

So the business owner told you a lie: "BMI wants you to stop playing." instead of the truth: "I am too cheap to pay the songwriters for their music." Unfortunately, repeating the lie as if it is gospel and getting all indignant about it doesn't make it true.

The rates: $1,400 for a little burger joint? I doubt it. BMI and SESAC rates are easily calculated on the web. ASCAP rates are easy to obtain. You don't mention the place in question but if it is small as you claim, you are wildly exaggerating. Unless the $1.4K includes back fees because this has been going on a while - then the amount is quite believable.

The US Constitution guarantees the rights of authors and inventors - read it, it's in there on the first page. Without the PROs enforcing their constitutional rights, songwriters would not get paid for their public performances.

If you have a better solution, we'd all love to hear it. So far, no one has.

"Rocky Top" is BMI. Why shouldn't the Bryants be paid for the public performance of their songs? Bill Monroe is BMI, Ralph Stanley is ASCAP, Bob Dylan is SESAC. I have never participated in a so-called traditional music jam where all three were never performed. ASCAP tunes include the Orange Blossom Special. The BMI catalog isn't as old but is nearly as large.

You want to "FREE THE MUSIC". Why? It doesn't belong to you. It belongs to those of us who wrote it. It doesn't belong to those who play it nor the places where it is performed.

Once it hits the Public Domain, it belongs to everybody but that takes a long time. Till then, Rocky Top, Blue Moon of Kentucky and Man of Constant Sorrow belong to the Bryants, estate of Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, not you nor the burger joint you jam in.

In 1976, Congress passed legislation conforming the US to the rest of the world regarding length of Copyright. A few years ago, the Walt Disney Co. bought and paid for a 20 year extension that grossly perverted the concept. If you think that's wrong, I agree. Bottom line: If a song was written after 1923 but before 1978, it will be 2018 before the first ones hit the PD. The 95 year rule only applies to works registered from 1923-1977 written by those who passed away before 1/1/1948.

BTW, if the PD is restored to 50 years, 2028 would be the first year it would take effect. Right now, the first year for anything registered or by anyone who passed after 1/1/1978 will be 2048. A lot of bluegrass standards will never enter the Public Domain in our lifetimes. I think that Happy Birthday is 2018; I know that Ghost Riders in the Sky is 2033.

ASCAP is owned by its 350,000+ members. BMI is governed by its membership. SESAC must be doing something right or they wouldn't have members. At least half a million songwriters are members. We join to be paid. None of the three operate in the dark. Once again, there is no fourth.

If a business doesn't want to benefit from having the musicians play then they should tell you to go home. If they want you then they are required to pay the songwriters. That's what the PROs are all about.

ASCAP songwriters are allowed to self-report the public performances of their songs. BMI and SESAC don't. You wonder how they find places? That's one way; internet advertising is another.

If your burger joint really wants to resolve this, I know how they can get it done legitimately for the lowest rate that applies to them. Send me a private message - I will not post it online.

Joined: 25 Nov 2009
Groups: None
>I am looking into

>I am looking into withdrawing from BMI and plan to join the massive class-action suit against them and the other organizations who have decided to punish musicians and the free venues that host them!<

There will be no class action suit for you. Why? Because you have no standing on this matter and will never be certified as a class. It is the venues that are required to license, not you - ever. You have no vested interest in the outcome. Oh yea, you want the right to perform copyrighted works without compensating the authors. Hmmm... It would take an amendment to the Constitution for you to have grounds - not likely. And where would this lawsuit be filed? Only the federal courts have jurisdiction.

The venues will never file such a suit either. Why? Because any licensee may challenge the rates anytime in any of the 12 US Circuit Courts of Appeal. Congress gave them that right - no lawsuit required. The venues must take the license first. Because there is an automatic appeal of the rates, there are no grounds for a class action suit. Again, no court would ever certify the class. Even if a lower court did, it couldn't include you.

Guess what? Neither BMI, ASCAP nor SESAC have ever sued a venue for copyright violation - ever. Not once. Why? They have neither standing nor grounds to do so.

It is always songwriters whose rights are violated and their publishers who sue. Every time. No exceptions. They are the only ones who can. Look it up. The performing rights organizations do the investigations only.

Oh yea... somehow BMI and ASCAP are somehow unfair to folksingers. I highly doubt that Mr. Seeger would agree with you. Last I checked, Mr. Seeger was still BMI and he lives on the income that he and Paul Campbell generate with their songwriting royaltes. They hold the copyrights to lot of those folk arrangements that you find somehow so unfair.

The writers have a constitutional right to own their songs and collect monies for their performances. The musicians do not have a constitutional right to perform copyrighted music in public. Congress has given musicians the right to perform music in public as long as its authors are being paid. The PROs are how this happens.

Finally, the main reason such a class action suit cannot happen is that every copyright attorney in the country knows that everything I just posted is correct. It's those flapping their jaws about the big bad PROs who don't get it.

Go ahead and stand up to them at your yoga studio. I don't think they'll notice but, if they do, they will be correct to license the yoga studio - if not licensed already (probably is if it uses music). Be really defiant and perform in a public park. Whoops! The city is licensed (yes, municipalities pay license fees to all three to cover such events).

So... Huff, puff, blow and sue away. Sue whom? For what? Believe it or not, "they" haven't done anything to you. I think it's more fun to play music and let the venues fight it out. After all, it's their fight, not yours.

Joined: 25 Sep 2009
Groups: None
I am looking into

"Only sick music makes money today".- Friedrich Nietzsche, Der Fall Wagner, Section 5
that response sounds like a big corporate lawyer speaking out in the hallway. While you are technicly correct you attitude sounds like you are shooing away a fly. I understand what you are saying but you do not seem bothered by the injustice of it all. In the late 90s I owned a CD duplication/replication business and was required to turn in a list of all songs on project. I watched a client get hauled away in handcuffs for having one song that he did not own on the CD. ASCAP and BMI are no differnt than any other institution in America today. Long past thier prime and latex with arogance. Just another reason to write your own music.

Joined: 25 Nov 2009
Groups: None
Your statement leads me to

Your statement leads me to believe that you are repeating an urban legend that you heard third hand while getting all the details wrong. I'm not a betting man but I would lay down good money that you never witnessed the scenario you described. - couldn't happen.

SESAC, ASCAP and BMI have nothing to do with duplicating. It's not their issue. They are concerned with the public performance of music only. They don't care who steals it nor where it's stolen from; only where it's being performed and how.

Go ahead and write your music. ASCAP's 370,000 members, BMI's 200,000 members and SESAC's members do. It's a free country. The PROs exist so that their members can get paid. No one is going to force you to accept money for your work.

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