The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is taking the Meadowlark bar and nineteen other restaurants, bars and venues across the country to court for copyright infringement.
ASCAP represents more than 725,000 independent songwriters and composers, and its stated mission is to ensure that these artists are paid for their work by venues that play their music. The group collects licensing fees from bars, venues and other businesses, which in turn have the rights to play that music without restrictions.
When businesses that play music represented by ASCAP fail to pay those fees, the organization sends out warnings, and if those warnings are unheeded, the group takes businesses to court.
“ASCAP has made numerous attempts at the establishments...to offer a license and educate the business owners about their obligations under federal copyright law,” ASCAP wrote in a statement about the businesses it’s taking legal action against. “Despite these efforts, the owners of these establishments repeatedly have refused to take or honor a license. Instead, they have continued to perform the copyrighted musical works of ASCAP's songwriter, composer and music publisher members for the entertainment of their patrons without obtaining permission to do so.”
Licenses are relatively easy to obtain and on average cost bars and restaurants less than $2 per day. Licensed businesses are allowed to play an unlimited selection of the more than 11.5 million songs the organization represents, according to a statement from ASCAP. From large venues like the Pepsi Center to tiny DIY outfits like Seventh Circle Music Collective, businesses of all sizes are expected to pay artists for music via such licensing fees. And many often do.
“Music is enormously valuable to bars and restaurants, creating an emotional connection with patrons and providing the right ambiance to attract and retain customers,” noted ASCAP Executive Vice President of Licensing Stephanie Ruyle, in a statement. “However, each of the establishments sued today has decided to use music without compensating songwriters. Hundreds of thousands of well-run businesses across the nation recognize the importance of paying music creators to use their music, and understand that it is both the lawful and right thing to do. By filing these actions, ASCAP is standing up for songwriters whose creative work brings great value to all businesses that publicly perform their music.”
Over the years, the Meadowlark, which has not responded to requests for comment on this story, has earned a stellar reputation for supporting local songwriters. Plenty of artists have honed their sets at the venue’s open-mic nights and released albums at the bar. Even the world-famous Denver band the Lumineers will give the bar kudos during their massive shows, crediting the Meadowlark for their humble beginnings.
“We want every business that uses music to prosper, including bars and restaurants,” explained ASCAP chairman of the board and president, songwriter Paul Williams, in a statement. “After all, as songwriters and composers, we are small business owners, too, and music is more than an art form for us. It’s how we put food on the table and send our 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 we can earn a living from our work and keep doing what we do best — writing music.”
The full list of venues being taken to court includes:
Amsterdam Bar and Hall (St. Paul, Minnesota)
The Back Room (New York, New York)
Blackstone Irish Pub (Southington, Conneticut)
Blue Velvet Lounge (Madison, Wisconsin)
Chapter One (Santa Ana, California)
Cider Mill Lounge (Portland, Oregon)
Club Arcada (St. Charles, Illinois)
Columbia City Theater (Seattle, Washington)
Dick's Wings & Grill (North Jacksonville, Florida)
Mansion Costa Mesa (Costa Mesa, California)
Meadowlark Bar (Denver, Colorado)
Nickel & Rye (Dallas, Texas)
Origin Boutique Nightclub (San Francisco, California)
P.O.E.T.S. Billiards (College Station, Texas)
Rednecks (Omaha, Nebraska)
The Republic House (Pasadena, Texas)
Rialto Poolroom (Portland, Oregon)
St. James Live (Atlanta, Georgia)
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.