For those about to rock, we subpoena you
VAIL – The mighty Van Halen, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin are coming to Vail – but not in the way you might think: Sadly, we’re not getting a stop on what would surely be the greatest rock show in the history of rock shows. Rather than rocking sweet licks, three of the biggest rock groups of all time are rocking sweet litigation against local music venue Club 8150 for alleged copyright infringement.The charges stem from cover songs played at 8150. According to The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, bands have the right to play a wide variety of music composed by themselves or others. But public venues that play ASCAP registered songs (which number in the millions) need a license to do so.”It’s unlawful to perform anybody’s music without permission – it doesn’t matter whether you’re a cover band or a solo performer,” Richard Reimer, in-house counsel for ASCAP, says. “The establishment needs a license – responsibility lies with the establishment. They could be a band that holds itself as a band that plays Led Zeppelin music, or the music of others.”ASCAP protects its members musical copyrights; to do so, they keep tabs on public performances and enter litigation on their members’ behalf when necessary. If a musical venue – be it a tiny coffee house or Madison square Garden – plays ASCAP-licensed songs live on stage or on an iPod, they are required to pay a yearly licensing fee for the right.According to the court document, the plaintiffs allege “ten counts of copyright infringement based on Defendants’ public performances of copyrighted musical compositions.” The suit names Big Snow Ball, LLC, and 8150 owner Steven Kovacik as defendants.As of press time, Kovacik couldn’t be reached for comment, and lawyers for the bands referred us to Reimer. Reimer estimates that there are numerous unlicensed establishments in the United States, and he alleges that ASCAP has made previous attempts to offer a license to 8150.”We’ve offered them a license on many occasions and they’ve refused,” Reimer says. “Tens of thousands of establishments are licensed. I’m sure there are many that we haven’t been able to license, so this is an ongoing process. We’ve been in the business of licensing for more than 90 years.”After ASCAP determines that enough entreaties have been made to get a venue licensed, they may send out an investigator to log ASCAP violations during a concert. On one evening of 8150’s investigation, all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band Lez Zeppelin performed.”We’ve never heard of this happening before,” says Lez Zeppelin guitarist Steph Payne. “Most clubs we play at are on the up-and-up, I guess. It hasn’t really affected us. It’s kind of sensational, and I thought every club pays it, anyway – how the ones get caught (that don’t), I don’t know. It has nothing to do with us.”Payne hasn’t met any of the members of Led Zeppelin, but she thinks at least Zep guitarist Jimmy Page knows about what’s going down in our fair valley.”I do know from a good source that Jimmy Page is absolutely involved with the band’s dealings – he doesn’t not know what’s going on with every facet of the band,” she says. “But I’m sure he didn’t ring someone up and say, ‘lets get after this club.'”Samana Lounge owner Scott Stoughton pays dues to ASCAP for song licenses at his club, but as a musician, he’s also a member.”I haven’t seen too many (royalty) checks,” he says, laughing. “I’ve never heard of (ASCAP going after clubs) in the valley, but I’ve definitely heard of it before. I think it’s interesting how they go about doing it. It’s one of those things that’s a sticky situation.”Stoughton’s main concern remains that artists get their due.”(ASCAP) kind of blindly goes after people – artists need to get paid, but whether it gets to the artists, that’s my issue,” he says. “Artists absolutely should get paid. But to me, a bigger problem lies with the amount of people who get upset about paying five bucks to see live music. People should pay for what they use. I don’t know how it’ll turn out, but hopefully everyone does what’s right.”According to its website, ASCAP, which is non-profit and controlled by composers, lyricists, songwriters and music publishers, distributes any earnings as royalties to its member artists, minus the 12.5 percent it keeps as operating costs. Reimer says that copyright cases like these rarely go to court, and both parties generally reach a settlement that safeguards against future infringement.”Typically, we’re in the business of getting people licensed,” Reimer says. “A settlement might include (past) license fees that should’ve been paid, as a deterrent to others who may be aware of what’s going on. And if the lawsuit goes to court, copyright owners can recover attorney’s fees.”ASCAP assesses member fees based on the size of the venue, the number of nights per week it features music, and whether the music is live or mechanical, like a jukebox. Still, Reimer estimates that average annual dues are less than $1,000, which buys a license to perform anything in the ASCAP repertory.”Our interests are in obeying the copyright laws and paying reasonable fees,” Reimer says. “If they ignore the laws, then they ought to suffer the consequences which include remedies provided by copyright law.”Arts &Entertainment Writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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