Danvers Club Sues for Music Copyright Infringement | News

DANVERS – A Danvers music venue has been sued for copyright infringement after allegedly failing to pay license fees to play music at the club.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers announced Tuesday that it has filed a lawsuit against Breakaway in Denver and six other establishments across the country.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Boston, alleges that Breakaway failed to pay licensing fees required in a licensing agreement it signed with ASCAP in 2016. The organization revoked Breakaway’s license in November 2018, but the club continued to play ASCAP. Members’ music, the lawsuit says.

The organization sued Breakaway for copyright infringement in 2020, and the club failed to pay the settlement, the lawsuit says. The club also refused to receive an ASCAP license agreement, according to the lawsuit.

Breakaway owner Joe Crowley denied the club had failed to pay license fees since 2016. He said the club had not paid dues during the pandemic because it had been closed for eight months and had no live entertainment for a year and a half. He said that he is in the process of negotiating with Askap about how much license fee should be charged.

Crowley criticized the organization for filing the lawsuit and publicizing the dispute.

“They think they can make a strong hand by shaming people,” he said. “They don’t care about the reputation of the business or how hard it has been during COVID.”

ASCAP is a membership organization of songwriters, composers and music publishers. The organization says it grants music licenses to hundreds of thousands of bars, restaurants, radio stations and other businesses to legally play songs protected by copyright law, whether those songs are performed by a live band or played via recorded music.

The lawsuit accused Breakaway of presenting an “unauthorized public performance” of copyrighted music. The lawsuit cited the July 31 performance of three specific songs — “That’s Life,” “An’t the Kick in the Head,” and “There, I Said It Again.”

Crowley said the songs were played during karaoke nights at the club.

Crowley said he and ASCAP disagree on how much the club should pay in license fees, which he said is based on the size of the venue. Crowley said ASCAP is basing the fee on the size of the breakaway’s entire building rather than the entertainment portion of the club. The building, located on Route 1 in Danvers, also houses a restaurant and function hall.

ASCAP says the average cost for bars and restaurants to obtain a license is less than $2 per day, and it gives them the right to play an unlimited amount of music and includes more than 11.5 million songs. According to the organization, almost 90 percent of license fees go directly to songwriters, musicians and music publishers as royalties. ASCAP says it represents more than 875,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers.

According to the lawsuit, ASCAP has attempted to contact Crowley or his representatives at least 14 times since July 23 to offer Breakaway a license. The lawsuit seeks to order Breakaway to pay restitution of more than $30,000 or less than $750 for each of the three violations alleged, plus the costs of the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are listed as Universal-Polygram International Publishing Inc., Marvel Music Corporation, and Music Sales Corporation.

Other businesses sued by ASCAP include the Calvin Theater in Northampton, as well as sites in Texas, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Illinois. In a press release, ASCAP Executive Vice President of Licensing Stephanie Rulli said songwriters depend on royalties to make a living from their creative work.

“It’s only fair that those lucky enough to receive government relief in hard times to cover their expenses, like The Breakaway, pay songwriters whose music brings such value to their establishment,” Rulli said.

Breakaway received two loans totaling $307,379 through the Paycheck Protection Program, according to online records.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.

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