BMI / ASCAP Issues

PhilPhil Portland, ORModerator Anastasio
edited February 2014 in FAQ Posts: 766
We were just informed, that our monthly jam at a local pub, which is a jam and not a paid gig, that we've been doing for past few years, has to stop as BMI have warned the pub about live music and copyright issues and threatened to fine the pub if such music continues.

I find it incredible & petty that BMI would go to such extremes.

What's next...will BMI stop us jamming in our own homes?

Is BMI only an issue in the US or do my UK brethren experience the same issues?

What a load of bollocks! :evil:




  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 6,153
    Hi Phil,

    This sort of thing happens all the time. I've even heard of Irish folk jams getting shutdown by ASCAP which is ridiculous as 90% of what they're playing is public domain.

    With that said, I think there must be a crackdown going on as the venue that used to host our jam said they also got shaken down by ASCAP. Fortunatley we were able to move somewhere else but I think this will continue to be a problem.

  • PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 1,471
    We play weekly at our local Irish place, but a local winery, you know, patio area and great place for live GJ and glasses of wine, was put on notice by ASCAP, who threatened to do nasty things, etc. "I Saw Stars" is just creaming 'em on the top 10, so they want their cut....

    Another reason to play pre-war swing. Though apparently a lotta good it does....

    pas encore, j'erre toujours.
  • thickpickthickpick ✭✭✭
    Posts: 142
    Why not ask the bar to apply for a license? (It's the bar's responsibility to do this, not the musicians'.)


    Not sure what the fee is, but I'm guessing it's not prohibitive.
  • MandobartMandobart ✭✭ Mandolin, Octave Mandolin, Mandocello, Fiddles
    Posts: 100
    I know this is an old thread, but this is happening a lot in my area recently. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC have shut down several open mics and jams. What bothers me is the mafia style shakedown they've applied with two of my friends. It goes like this: Their lawyers approach the owner and say "you have musicians playing music that we own the rights to. You owe us $XXX,000." Venue owner replies "I don't have that much." Lawyers reply "Well how much have you got?" and they offer a "deal." Owner says "wait a minute, my performers play only their original material" or "we only play public domain music" Lawyers say "How do you know we don't own the rights to their material" or "How can you guarantee they won't play a request that we own?" Owner can either fight this huge industry and their lawyers in court, or pay their "fee" or close down the jam/open mic.

    The worst thing about it is the majority of the money they collect goes to the machine and its lawyers. The leftover scraps get allocated to artists based on radio air play. So if I play gypsy jazz at a club, the tribute money to ASCAP/BMI/SESAC will go to Justin Bieber, Miler Cyrus or Alan Jackson.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 6,153
    Unfortunately this ludicrous practice of my regular gigs just got shut down this month by BMI. This is the second time this has happened in a year :mad:
  • I wonder if they think that shutting down live music will generate more money for them elsewhere.

    From up here what's going on down in the USA is getting pretty extreme insofar as money goes. I hope that things settle down for you all down there
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,319
    Just modify the melody and the name a bit. It's improvised music anyway. They can't nail you for playing the same chord progression. Everyone bases new songs on old chord progressions. No one plays the melody straight. Not much they can do about that IMHO
  • MandobartMandobart ✭✭ Mandolin, Octave Mandolin, Mandocello, Fiddles
    Posts: 100
    Bones - They aren't going after the musicians; they know we're all broke! They are going after the owners of the venues that we play in. Sometimes that "venue" is a church, school, etc. They don't care if we play totally original, unlicensed, unpublished songs. It is a simple shakedown by the music publishing industry.
  • LoritmoLoritmo Pacific NW✭✭✭
    Posts: 69
    Unfortunately this ludicrous practice of my regular gigs just got shut down this month by BMI. This is the second time this has happened in a year :mad:

    I'm up in Bellingham, north of Seattle, and was told about this by a friend who said a small venue couldn't let her play anymore -- a small one that barely has money to pay the musicians much less pay royalties -- for this very reason. With the comments about Seattle and Portland, too, I think Michael's exactly right about a crackdown. It's probably one of those "make money from home" deals where someone's going up and down the corridor strongarming pubs, retirement homes (yes! even retirement homes just trying to provide a little enjoyment for their clients), what have you. I understand artists need to get paid for the music they create, but if musicians are just jamming and not getting paid (or paid pennies) and are told by the venue that they can't play because the venue is worried about running afoul of lawyers, something's not right.


  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,319
    Hey Mandobart, I would think if they are not playing copy written material, i.e. not stating the melody directly but improvising around it, how could they shut anyone down. Musicians have done that forever. Everyone plays over existing changes. No law against that. Heck, Dinette is Dinah, Django's Tiger is Tiger Rag, I'm sure he never got sued for royalties for using the same chord progression. The beginning of All of Me is just a C major triad. Rarely is the actual as written melody ever completely stated anyway.
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