Bar Owner Sued Over Songs

An Irish bar owner in Rhode Island is being sued by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) for violating federal copyrights during a show earlier this year.

ASCAP reports that Patrick's Bar in Providence violated federal copyright law during a live show in 2008 and is seeking up to $17,000 in damages.

ASCAP's complaint states that it made several attempts by mail and other communications over many years to inform Co. Roscommon owner Patrick Griffin of copyright violations.

"Defendants have continued to perform copyrighted music without permission, abetting the public performance of such compositions in any such place or otherwise," the complaint said.

Griffin, who opened Patrick's in 1992 and celebrated its 15th anniversary in March 2007, told the Irish Voice on Tuesday that he couldn't afford to pay that amount of money.

"The bar is only a small bar. The actual area where entertainment happens only holds about 95-100 people. I'm not making a whole lot of money. I don't charge a cover charge," said Griffin, who has been living in the U.S. since 1984.

Griffin, who works in City Hall in Providence, acknowledges that he received calls from ASCAP over the years.

"I told them if they didn't give me a break down of what the license incorporated I wouldn't pay it, and then they would go away and you wouldn't hear from them for about a year, so in the end I thought it was one of these old fashioned shakedowns from one of these big companies," said Griffin.

"I figured if I paid one then I would have to pay all of the organizations, which would bring it up to $6,000, and there is no way I could afford that."

By federal law it is the business owner's responsibility to pay a licensing fee in order to be permitted to play live or recorded music in their establishment. Griffin was unaware of this law.

"The first time I found out it was federal was when a sheriff arrived at my house at 11 p.m. at night and told me I was being brought into federal court," he said.

ASCAP hired an investigator to come from Indiana undercover and sit at Patrick's Bar as if he was a patron last February.

"The report showed that there was two or three of ASCAP songs performed back," said Griffin.

Angry that it could go this far, Griffin said, "I believe the club owner should not be responsible for this fee. It should be the performer who is performing the songs. Everyone deserves to pick up on the royalties of their songs, but I pay a license for the bar and I pay these guys to come in and perform. I shouldn't worry about what songs they are singing."

Since initial meetings with lawyers, ASCAP has agreed to settle for $14,000 and reduce their annual fee to $725. Now BMI are looking for their share of royalties from Griffin.

"They're like cockroaches coming out of a building site in their droves," he said.

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