Apr 142004
 
Authors: Danny Byers

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

music.

These venues used to have bands play seven nights a week and

worked as an outlet for rising bands like the String Cheese

Incident.

“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,

Katopodis said.

“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

to Katopodis.

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

certain bands.

“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.

It’s absurd.”

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

performing.

“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

deserve.

“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

pretty boring.”

These restrictions cause a problem not only for venues, but also

for the artists who make money playing in them, as well as

promotion companies.

“(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

live set.

“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

customers.

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