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Why bar owners should think twice about blasting Poison

T-bar busy (500 x 358) We've got a tip for bars and restaurant owners throughout the United States.

If a strange-looking person walks into your food or drink establishment with a tape measure and begins to ask questions about the number of stereo loudspeakers in the house, immediately comp this individual a stiff alcoholic drink. After all, this person may work for ASCAP or BMI, the two performance rights organizations chartered to collect royalties on behalf of music publishers.

Every bar and restaurant around knows they need a liquor license to serve alcohol, but how many actually spend the $1000 or so to purchase a blanket license from ASCAP or BMI to play music?

We guess not as many as should.

And so, every so often, ASCAP/BMI like to make a point by suing an establishment that hasn't paid for the rights to blare music to its patrons. Don't believe us? Check out this lawsuit filed earlier in the week by various song publishers against a small establishment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan called Pianos Bar and Restaurant. According to the complaint, Pianos had the nerve to play Poison's "Talk Dirty to Me" without paying Bret Michaels, or whomever holds the performance rights to the song. (Other songs are alleged too.)

Here's the thing, though. In 1998, Congress amended copyright law on performance rights as they applied to certain food service or drinking establishments. Exemptions were given to bars and restaurants that were less than 3,750 gross square feet or played music on no more than 6 loudspeakers. ASCAP's website acknowledges as much.

Performance rights are a pretty quirky realm of copyright law—and there's a lot of confusion about whether things like ringtones are covered—but in a day and age when the music industry is hunting for revenue, restaurants and bars are going to see more PRO cops in their midst.