A petition to exempt small venues from “prohibitive” licensing fees has been circling the Internet. Since its first signature on May 30th, the petition has garnered 1,844 signatures (just 166 away from their NEW goal of 2,000).
The petition requests PROs “grant venues and cafes under 350 capacity exempt status from the prohibitive licensing fees levied by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of copyrighted material.”
Hosted on MoveOn.org, the petition is addressed to Paul Williams, ASCAP’s President of the Board, Michael O’Neill, BMI’s President and CEO, Pat Collins, SESAC’s President and Co-CEO, and John Josephson, SESAC’s Chairman and Co-CEO.
A number of the petition’s supporters are themselves members of these PROs.
Signatories’ comments all deliver a united message: communities and musicians alike suffer from the current small venue licensing fees.
“In our community of 6,700, it’s prohibitive to ask for large licensing fees to perform music. Don’t eliminate music from our lives.” said Nancy Thornburn of Fort Bragg, CA.
William Kiel commented from Alamo Heights, TX, “Our local music venue was closed after 25 yrs due to ASCAP policies. [These fees] will destroy the very thing ASCAP supposedly wants to protect, the song writers and their wonderful music.”
Small businesses often aren’t able to pay PRO licensing fees, and ultimately stop hosting live music, regardless of whether potential acts are playing original music or not–all it takes is one person playing one copyrighted song for the risk to outweigh the benefits of live music.
Bauhaus Kaffee is a small establishment in Farmington, MO (pop. 18,000) that was directly affected by these licenses. When ASCAP found out they hosted occasional live music, the PRO contacted them and threatened a lawsuit if the coffee house didn’t pay the $600 yearly license fee (determined by the fire department’s set capacity of 96, although they only seat 55).
Next, BMI requested $500, and then SESAC requested just over $700.
This meant the coffee shop was paying $1,800 per year to host an occasional live music night.
The owners of Bauhaus spoke with the PROs, explaining the musicians they hosted played only original music. No luck: the owners were still required to pay the fees in case a preexisting song was performed. Ultimately, the $1,800 proved to be too much for the small, independent coffee shop, and the town’s primary venue shutdown their music.
Choices like these are happening throughout the U.S. — many of the petition’s comments tell the same story of small venues reluctantly shuttering their live music events because of cost-prohibitive fees charged by the major PROs on a ‘just in case’ condition.
ASCAP musician Ari Herstand wrote about the fees, saying he would rather take an unnoticeable cut in his monthly royalty check and let music in small communities thrive.
“I’m an ASCAP songwriter. I appreciate the ASCAP checks I receive. I know that a tiny, minuscule fraction of that $600 that Bauhaus paid went to me. But at the same time, I don’t want my performing rights organization to force small businesses offering a service to the community to stop.”
What do you think? Should ASCAP, BMI and SESAC continue with their concurrent licensing fees for venues of 350 capacity or less, or should the PROs exempt such small businesses?