Corporations enforcing copyright laws that prohibit local bands
from covering classic songs have played a significant role in the
decline of smaller Fort Collins music venues that host live
These venues used to have bands play seven nights a week and
worked as an outlet for rising bands like the String Cheese
“There were tons of local bands, it was amazing,” said
Katopodis, Tony’s Restaurant and Lounge’s manager.
Tony’s was even featured in Playboy as one of the best college
party bars, which Katopodis attributed to a band whose lead singer
took his clothes off on stage during a performance at Tony’s.
For a five-year stretch, Tony’s had music every night of the
week with an eclectic lineup varying from rock, punk, acoustic and
metal to DJs and jam-bands. But as the famous Don McLean song goes,
sadly, one day the music died.
The American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers, and
Broadcast Music Inc., two corporations that are interested in
compensating original artists for their creations, were the major
contributors to the impediment of live performances at Tony’s,
“They killed the music scene,” Katopodis said. “The whole local
scene died, and we thrived on that.”
ASCAP and BMI each charged Tony’s an annual royalty fee of more
than $1,000 in order to reimburse the original composers, according
Tony’s was already paying ASCAP and BMI substantial royalty fees
to use multiple televisions, a jukebox and speakers surrounding the
bar that played recorded music. Paying these fees were a known
formality for Tony’s, Katopodis said. Then the bar was notified
that since it had live bands play, it had to pay additional royalty
fees, he said. These additional royalty costs were to compensate
the original artists whose songs were occasionally being covered by
“I think it’s just a scam,” Katopodis said. “They come and jack
every restaurant and bar and the artists probably only get a $5
paycheck. A lot probably goes to administration and in-house fees.
If Tony’s chose not to pay these extra royalty costs, its live
music would be restricted to only original songs by the local bands
“It’s really hard to keep people excited when they don’t play
some covers. People like to hear songs that they recognize,” said
Katopodis, adding that many local bands make a mark for themselves
by playing good covers.
These new royalty fees, in addition to the fees that the bar was
already paying, and the monthly $1,000 fee it paid to rent the
sound system, became too overwhelming, and Tony’s finally decided
that hosting live music was not worth the work. The majority of
money the bar reaped from having live bands was spent on keeping
the business from being sued, he said.
“You don’t want to risk it. You don’t know who owns what and you
don’t want to get sued,” Katopodis said.
J.W. Johnson, senior director of public relations for BMI, said
it is important to reimburse artists for what they rightfully
“When you play in a venue, that venue or club is supposed to be
licensed. It’s incumbent on the club and there are very serious
penalties for infringement,” he said. “That’s a part of how
songwriters make a living. In effect, when people refuse to pay
they’re taking away from what enhances their environment. They have
the right not to play licensed music, but I imagine it would be
These restrictions cause a problem not only for venues, but also
for the artists who make money playing in them, as well as
“(BMI and ASCAP’s) price is too steep, especially for local
venues who can’t afford it,” said Carey Pritchard, co-owner of Step
Up Productions, a young company that booked live acts at Tony’s on
Tuesday nights until it was no longer allowed.
Booking and promoting at Tony’s helped Step Up, Pritchard said.
There, the company found Patchwork Blue, a popular local acoustic
group that Step Up recently signed and recorded.
Pritchard said he understands ASCAP and BMI’s purpose but
doesn’t completely agree with their tactics.
“I know they’re looking out for bands but I think it’s
ridiculous that bands like Patchwork Blue sell 1,000 albums and we
don’t see a dime,” he said.
Patchwork Blue no longer graces Tony’s stage with its vivacious
“Anybody can set up their own company and charge a fee
theoretically,” said Robert Osborne, owner of Avogadro’s Number, a
venue that hosts live performances and open mic nights. “Musicians
like this, but most of them never get paid. They don’t reap any
benefit from these companies with mass amounts of money.”
In 1992, Osborne was sued for $180,000 by BMI, which sent out a
press release saying Avo’s was violating music infringement laws.
After hearing the news, Osborne said he did research and found that
every single operator that went up against BMI in court had lost
and wasted a lot of time and thousands of dollars while doing so.
Eventually, through much negotiation and pleading, Osborne said he
settled with BMI for $6,000.
“It’s very one-sided and the money winds up in very few hands,”
Osborne said. “Little businesses like me, do so much for musicians,
we create a benefit for them, and we get nothing in return. We get
precious little for our efforts.”
Johnson disagrees with those who claim BMI and similar companies
are wrong. He said BMI is merely exercising its right under U.S.
law to protect the interests of its writers and publishers.
But whether venues like it or not, they must either abide with
the copyright rules and pay the fees to have bands cover popular
hits, or they must give up their live entertainment.
Avogadro’s Number still hosts live music and Osborne pays the
stipulated royalty costs to keep it so, although he said he does
not believe in what these companies do to clubs like his.
Tony’s no longer plays live music because it feels the burdens
that come along with it outweigh its benefits, said Katopodis, who
added that Tony’s has tried to find other ways to bring in