Legislation is under consideration in a number of states and in Washington to allow bars and restaurants to stop paying royalties on copyrighted recorded music (Morning Report, Calendar, April 27). Often, the issue is presented as a "David" (small restaurant owner) versus "Goliath" (monster music organization) situation. It is, in fact, a "David" (restaurant owner) versus "David" (individual songwriter) confrontation.
Individual songwriters are paid for use of their work (as they should be). The fees are collected for them by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Broadcast Music Inc. and/or Sesac, a performing rights society based in Nashville. The songwriter, who has spent years struggling to learn his or her craft in order to turn out material that might appeal to the public, should be paid for it. No one works for free. Restaurant owners who believe that music enhances the environment of their places of business should be willing to pay the people who have spent years working to create a hit song.
The payments involved are small for individual bars and restaurants--ASCAP estimates $1.58 per day on average--but they can add up to many millions of dollars and may affect up to 15% to 20% of a hit songwriter's income.
Restaurateurs are willing to pay the appropriate price for artwork, wallpaper, flowers or carpeting. Why should the same economics not apply to the music?
Songwriters, via the Copyright Act and numerous court decisions, are guaranteed the right to be compensated for the music they create--just as the chef expects to be compensated for the meal he prepares, or the waiter or waitress expects to be paid for serving the customer.
All three performing rights societies have tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate with both the National Restaurant Assn. and the National Licensed Beverage Assn. Payment for music of this nature is a longstanding practice, determined by federal law, and has been in place on an international basis for decades.
The importance of the music under discussion is sometimes minimized, and is referred to by restaurateurs as "incidental." Songwriter Mac McAnally pointed out, "If a bird flies into your restaurant and sings, that is incidental music." The mere fact that restaurant and tavern owners are willing to spend so much time and money to exempt themselves from these payments to songwriters proves that this music is far from incidental.
Restaurateurs do have an option. If they object to paying, then they can simply not play music in their establishments. If, however, expensive and extensive sound systems are installed for the express purpose of providing customers with the pleasure of hearing songs they enjoy, then the songwriter must be fairly compensated.