By Adam Madison
Triplicate staff writer
One of the few places that offer live music in Del Norte County almost had its performances shut down.
Pizza King owner Mary Weir thought last autumn that her restaurant and bar would have to stop playing live music unless she paid a licensing fee to the Broadcast Music Corporation.
But now she's wondering if Pizza King has been bilked. The fee only has to be paid if the music being performed or played is owned by BMI. A clause also exists in the United States Copyright Law that makes business exempt from licensing fees if they are under a certain size.
Pizza King is a Crescent City hangout for live music, with the pizza shop next door to the bar.
BMI consists of a group of songwriters and publishers that created the organization to protect their copyrighted works by selling licenses to use those works.
A sales representative from the BMI sold a "blanket policy" to Weir last August that would enable the establishment to play the copyrighted music of its members. The $765 policy is good through July 31.
The representative failed to mention to Weir however, that Pizza King would only need the policy if it played BMI copyrighted works, she said.
The BMI saleperson did not include the guidelines under which the restaurant would need to pay for playing copyrighted music, Murphy said. The BMI sales consultant could not be reached for comment.
Jerry Bailey, director for media relations for BMI said that when it comes to businesses, "the safest route is to secure a blanket license to cover all of the music played."
A BMI representative first verified that music was played at the Pizza King on March 22, 2006, Bailey said. BMI keeps a database of "eating and drinking establishments" as prospective clients.
A BMI sales representative calls a business from the database, asks if the business is going to have live music and on which days. Bailey said that the database is what "kicks out the leads," on which businesses to make the "verifying" call to.
The consultant does not ask if they are playing BMI copyrighted music. When asked if the consultant identifies themselves as a BMI representative or why they are calling, "on the first call, probably not, I see no reason to do it, you may not even tell them your name," Bailey said.
At the time of the verifying' call, "we don't know what songs that band (at Pizza King) was playing, that's the responsibility of the business owner," Bailey said.
About 90 percent of contacts between BMI and prospective businesses "is in phone or mail, it's just not cost effective when you have 600,000 (clients)," said Bailey.
Bailey said that personal contact is too expensive for BMI, "because most of these businesses are too small to be profitable."
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, another music licensing group, contacted Weir in May 2007. According to Vincent Candilora, senior vice president of licensing for ASCAP, the group keeps a database similar to BMI's, except prospective leads are purchased.
Pizza King employee Ralph Murphy said that "ASCAP actually sent a representative out to verify we were playing live music here."
According to a prospective sales contract sent to Weir by ASCAP, Melissa Blanchard was the first to contact Weir.
Blanchard, when contacted by The Daily Triplicate, said, "I am not authorized to speak with the media."
According to the contract, the blanket policy would cost $2,002 and would cover Pizza King for any ASCAP copyrighted material Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2007.
The documentation included in the proposal did not include a list of the ASCAP copyrighted material, Murphy said. As with the BMI "blanket policy," businesses are required to pay for a copyright license only if copyrighted material is played in a public place.
Is Your Business Exempt ?
The Copyright Law of the United States of America does exempt businesses trom being charged for copyrighted material: "In the case of a food service or drinking establishment, either the establishment in which the communication occurs has less than 3,750 gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose), or the establishment in which the communication occurs has 3,750 gross square feet of space or more (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose)."