You’ve heard the tale in one form or another: A bar plays a recorded song over its sound system (without permission), then gets sued for violating the public performance right of the musical composition's copyright holder. But it's just an urban legend, right? Wrong. It happens. It happened earlier this month.
There is (according to the complaint in Broadcast Music, Inc., et al. v. JNJ Enterprises, Inc., et al., anyway) an establishment in White Plains, New York known as The Lazy Boy Saloon (but also as The Lazy Boy Saloon & Ale House and as Lazy Lounge) where, on August 16, 2013, four songs in the formidable "BMI Repertoire" were played, presumably over the speakers in the place with reckless abandon and utter disregard for law and/or order. That is: "Defendants publicly performed and/or caused to be publicly performed at the Establishment the musical compositions identified… without a license to do so. Thus, Defendants have committed copyright infringement."
(The four songs? Brown Eyed Girl; Every Rose Has Its Thorn; Sympathy For The Devil; and Talk Dirty To Me.)
The verified complaint is brief; it has all of twenty paragraphs of allegations. There are no sordid details (other than that, of the four songs at issue, two are by Poison). In fact, this lawsuit is so… boring, that I'm wondering (as you might be as well) why I'm writing about it. Maybe because it seems like such a small thing, hardly worth starting a literal federal case over.
Don't get me wrong: I'm all for protecting the rights of copyright holders and other owners of intellectual property. I'm the guy who actually says, "Don't steal music" to other people and means it.
But this… this seems like something that could have been overlooked by BMI, no? Because it was four songs—if it had been more than just four songs, on that one night in August, anyway, the other instances of infringement surely would have been in the complaint. (That said, of course BMI is seeking an injunction to stop the bar from infringing in this manner on the copyrights of all of the songs in the BMI Repertoire moving forward… and to bring the action, BMI doesn't need to allege or prove dozens, scores, or scads of violations… but it isn't clear that this is behavior that The Lazy Boy Saloon engages in often.)
Maybe I'm really just irked by the songs the bar chose to play. I mean, one song by the Stones, but two songs by Poison? Was Bret Michaels at the bar?