In response to numerous New Orleans establishments being sued for playing unlicensed music, an intellectual property expert who spoke with Louisiana Record explained that playing music without a license is, in fact, a crime.
The lawsuits, according to The New Orleans Advocate, have been filed by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), a group that represents songwriters, composers and other music-industry-related groups. ASCAP offers licenses to venues wishing to play the music of those represented.
“One of the rights that is given to a copyright owner, and is especially important for composers, is the right to control performances of their work,” Marie Breaux of M. Breaux IP Law, an intellectual property expert, told Louisiana Record. “That is one of the tasks of ASCAP and they make available blanket licenses for venues.”
Breaux explained that the owners or operators of a venue can purchase a license from ASCAP, giving them the right to play the music included without fear of legal ramifications.
“You sign up for once for this and it gives you the right to publicly perform all the works in the license catalogue,” Breaux said. “If you pay your license fees you won’t run afoul of violating the public performance rights of the works in those catalogues.”
ASCAP rarely seeks out legal action, according to Louisiana Record’s exclusive interview. Instead, the society prefers to have a conversation rather than a court battle over the illegal use of music. But, sometimes establishments leave them no choice, especially after making repeat offenses.
Breaux said that many people may not be aware that simply playing music that they have not paid for is a crime under copyright law.
“A lot of times, people are surprised and think of copyrights as being limited to copying the work, but there's really a bundle of rights that is given to the copyright owner,” Breaux said. “This is why people have a very limited and erroneous idea of what the copyrights are and think they can skip on licenses for public performances and that is not the case.”
Establishments that do not pay for the license packages, are in for a much more expensive route, once their case reaches the courtroom, as settlement costs will likely include attorney's fees and other related costs.