A little live music at a restaurant becomes a complicated licensing dispute

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

They say that music may aid digestion. The right live music can certainly add a great ambiance to a nice dinner out at a restaurant. One restaurant owner in Miami Springs, being both a chef and a musician decided that he would entertain his patrons not only with his food but also with music. But know the restaurant owner is facing a potential copyright infringement lawsuit.

When music is played at a public venue, even a restaurant, it is can considered a public performance. If the owner of the rights to that music have not granted a license to the venue they may be infringing. There are exemptions for certain situations. For a restaurant these depend on the size of the restaurant, whether a cover charge is collected and a number of other factors.

In this case the minstrel restaurant owner had actually been paying a licensing fee to one licensing group, BMI. He explained that he thought that this was sufficient. It seems that it was not his intention to avoid compensating the rights holders of the music he was performing. But BMI is not the only entity that holds rights to music, and the other large rights holder has now sent the restaurant notices and is seeking a separate licensing fee.

This situation is interesting in that the restaurant owner, being a musician himself, recognized the value in the songs he was performing and had been paying a licensing fee. But because of the complicated nature of intellectual property rights surrounding music, still found himself running afoul of other rights holders. Hopefully this situation can be resolved in a manner that will ensure that the creators of the music are appropriately compensated while still allowing this chef to play his guitar and sing for his customers.

Source: The Miami Herald, “Music industry targets small restaurant,” Theo Karantsalis, March 20, 2012