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Would You Sue a Restaurant for $30,000 If They Didn't Pay You Royalties?

Edit: Oof, this post has been the most negative feedback I've gotten.

I'll gladly admit I'm wrong, and simply leave this post up only for reference. I still appreciate the feedback, however. Getting my thoughts on track is very important.

Read below if you really care to.

This makes me queasy:
Restaurant Owner Ordered to Pay BMI $30,450 For 'Illegally Playing' Four Unlicensed Songs

This is not about feeding musicians, it's about feeding the "Royalty Collection Agencies".
BMI began sending communication regarding the restaurant's lack of proper licensing back in September of 2009, but it wasn't until May of 2010 that BMI even bothered to visit Fosters to verify that the business was actually playing unlicensed music. (From page 32 of the PDF.)
So without verifying anything, BMI starts demanding payment from a restaurant for "Piracy".

This is how the mafia demands "protection".

To which BMI would retort: "But it's all 'For the Artists'!"

Would you sue a restaurant out of business for playing your songs and not paying you a few dollars?

Of course not, that's terrible business! The restaurant is playing your music to a captive audience, this is a good thing. From psychology we know that people prefer things more simply by repeated exposure. (The Mere Exposure Effect)

From Wikipedia:
In studies of interpersonal attraction, the more often a person is seen by someone, the more pleasing and likeable that person appears to be.
Music is marketing material, not the profit driver it once was. You want more people listening to your music, this is a good thing!

The traditional performing rights organizations (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC) are scared; the era of terrestrial radio domination has passed as competition for ear-time has shot up exponentially. They somehow decided it wasn't important to deal with the issues of streaming internet radio, satellite radio, and cable TV so now SoundExchange swooped in to become the only entity in the US allowed to collect digital royalties.

Oops. Their business model just got OWNED.

Better start suing fans!

These traditional performing rights organizations made sense thirty years ago, but not anymore. Without the concentrated market of old-school radio, songs don't get as famous as they used to since people listen to what they demand, not what they're fed. (Jeff Bridge's new album sold only 13,000 copies, which is now enough to break into the Billboard top 25!) Without monster-hit songs, the amount of royalties collected on a per-song basis will continue to drop, shrinking the margins of these agencies as they have to chase down royalties for more songs for less pay. Unless they fundamentally change their business model, I don't see traditional performing rights organizations having an important role in the future of music.

My suggestion? While I'm registered with ASCAP, I'm not counting on the $50 registration breaking even. SoundExchange will probably play a bigger role in your career, so I'd make that a priority over traditional performing rights orgs. Still, I don't really figure royalties into my business plan as they'll only become significantly large long after I'm making better money from other income streams.

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  1. I worked at a restaurant where BMI would CONSTANTLY call to notify us about how we needed to pay them royalties for playing music in our restaurant. The owner of the restaurant figured that since he paid for satellite music stations, that that was good enough. I'm not sure if BMI is still pestering them but this post reminded me of that....

  2. Wow, that's a sure way to endear yourself to your customers! /sarcasm

    That's a nice workaround, haha.

  3. I would certainly sue this restaurant... and any other business that profited from my creative work... if, I had the money to do so.
    Thankfully BMI does have deep pockets.

    I think that BMI is making a statement to small business, and the public in general, that it has to start respecting composers & stop marginalizing their importance. You are not exempt from the laws of the land, just because you are small.

    How many meals were stolen from this restaurant?

    How about we, you & I, get all of our friends
    (and their friends as well)together and go to this restaurant everyday for lunch & dinner and tell the waiter to take a flying leap when he gives us the bill.

    (It's probably not open the morning, but I guess we could do a break & enter for breakfast)

    I bet you're even against suing businesses like Youtube,( I'm talking 1,000,000's not 1000's) who make millions of $$ every day in ad revenues, by using the FREE raw materials(music) supplied by composers.

    Please don't come back to me with that lame excuse, "Ya, but what about all that free exposure?"
    It's not free. Musicians overpay for it through the unpaid royalties not received.

    You, as well as too many who call themselves musicians, lack a serious respect for the term "professional musician", in all its permutations.

    "Created art" is not air. Air is free. It belongs to everybody. Art involves intellectual work.

    I suspect that you may be a "living room" musician who sustains himself with a non-musical is your sideline that helps you earn extra money in your struggle to meet those monthly car payments.

    It's the amateurs whom business has taken sides with,because business can make huge profits from amateurs and( here's the kicker) they don't even have to kiss them first.

    If you look at any professional association, BMI, CAW, AFM, their duty is to protect the well being of its professional membership. That's the folks who actually earn a living using their talents & skills.

    Your complaint about BMI, as I give it further consideration, is obviously from an amateur "wanna be's" view point, & not to be mistakenly attributed to that of a "professional" musician's point of view.

    Amateurs, as we all know, work for free, as they have nothing invested & nothing to lose.

  4. ...And I have been served a proper thrashing.

    I'll admit when I'm wrong, and from the responses I've been getting I'm clearly off-base.

    I appreicate the feedback, however. Getting my thoughts corrected is very important to me.