The New York-based American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, better known as ASCAP, has sued upscale Atlanta eatery 5Church and nine other businesses around the country after they refused to fork over licensing fees.
ASCAP is a nonprofit that collects licensing fees on behalf of more than 670,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers from businesses that play music.
According to a complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, ASCAP has made more than 50 attempts since early 2016 to contact 5Church and its manager, Ayman Kamel, “by phone, by e-mail and in person” about the club’s need to procure a license.
“ASCAP’s various communications gave defendants notice that unlicensed performances of ASCAP’s members’ musical compositions at 5Church constitute copyright infringement of ASCAP’s members’ copyrights in their musical works,” said the complaint, filed by Holland & Knight associate Latoya Brisbane.
“Defendants have refused all of ASCAP’s license offers for 5Church,” it said.
According to ASCAP, the average license fee for a restaurant or bar to play unlimited music by listed artists is less than $2 a day.
The Daily Report forwarded a copy of the complaint to 5Church and Kamel and attempted to reach Kamel by phone, but there was no immediate response on Thursday.
The complaint was filed on behalf of four music publishers and copyright owners: Universal Polygram International, Criterion Music Corp., 2082 Music Publishing and Songs of Peers Ltd.
It cites the playing of three particular songs as causes of action: 1936’s “The Way You Look Tonight” by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern; Nancy Sinatra’s 1965 hit “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” written by Lee Hazlewood; and Grammy-winning “Umbrella,” recorded by Rihanna in 2007 and written by rapper Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, Thaddis “Kuk” Harrell and Terius “The-Dream” Nash.
All three songs were played at 5Church on March 13, the complaint said.
ASCAP filed 10 such suits Wednesday in several states, including another in Georgia naming Columbus watering hole “The Hooch.”
“We want every business that uses music to prosper, including bars and restaurants,” said ASCAP Executive Vice President of Licensing Stephanie Ruyle in a statement announcing the spate of suits.
“Songwriters and composers are small business owners, too, and music is more than an art form for them,” Ruyle said. “It’s how they put food on the table and send their kids to school. Most businesses know that an ASCAP license allows them to offer music legally, efficiently and at a reasonable price—while compensating music creators so they can earn a living from our work and keep doing what they do best—writing music.”
Atlanta’s is one of three 5Church locations; it is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has a an outlet in Charleston, South Carolina. Neither of the other two was targeted by ASCAP.