Moondogs in Buckhead
Photo: Channel 2 Action News
Photo: Channel 2 Action News

Two Atlanta bars sued for playing music without permission

Two metro Atlanta bars are being sued in federal court for copyright infringement, having each allegedly performed music for several years, knowingly, without a license.

Moondogs, in Buckhead, and Twisted Tavern, in Buford, are being sued by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which claims that both bars have failed to purchase licenses in order to legally perform music for their customers.

Without a license, an establishment performs copyrighted music without compensating the copyright holder, such as the song's writer. Under copyright law, "perform" has a broad definition that includes playing music live, from a CD or computer and more.

Actions were filed against both Moondogs and Twisted Tavern on Aug. 25, according to Jackson Wagener, ASCAP's vice president of business and legal affairs.

"First off, we don't like to litigate. Litigation is a last resort for us," Wagener told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Moondogs and Twisted Tavern are two of 10 businesses nationwide named in the round of suits, he said.

This year, ASCAP has brought 17 such suits, he said.

Wagener said ASCAP has made "repeated attempts" to contact the owners of both Moondogs and Twisted Tavern — since May 2012 and January 2010, respectively.

Owners for Moondogs and Twisted Tavern have not responded to messages from the AJC seeking comment.

Wagener was unable to provide specific details of how ASCAP had attempted communication, but said that generally the organization will send letters and emails, make phone calls and send employees in person to those establishments who are performing copyrighted music without a license.

"At a certain point … you have no other mechanism for ensuring compliance, ensuring our songwriters are properly compensated," Wagener said.

He said ASCAP's goal is never to shut down a business, and that in the majority of such cases, both parties are able to reach an "amicable and expedient resolution" — namely, a settlement. ASCAP has already been in contact with Twisted Tavern about a possible settlement, Wagener said.

"Our goal is compliance. We want the establishment to become licensed going forward," he said.

ASCAP would also expect the establishment to pay some retroactive fees for the period they played copyrighted material without a license, though the exact amount varies in each case, Wagener said.

However, such copyright suits tend to be pretty cut and dry, and the penalties for violation can be steep, according to William Lee, a professor of communication law at the University of Georgia.

"We're talking about big bucks here," he said.

There are a few exemptions under copyright law, but broadly "there's no wiggle room here," he said.

Generally, it's wise for the establishment to seek a settlement out of court, Lee said. Refusing to purchase a license in front of a judge or jury, he said, would be the same as endorsing theft as a business model.

After all: "You don't get your beer for free," he said. "You don't get your pretzels for free."

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