Florida tavern faces lawsuit from music companies

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Every small business owner in Miami knows that in addition to the cost of supplies and labor, there are a multitude of less obvious or hidden costs. Franchise fees, building maintenance, and other costs can add up quickly to take a cut from your bottom line. One Florida tavern is now facing commercial litigation for allegedly not paying for the proper license to play music owned by Sony and other copyright holders.

The music companies allege that because the establishment did not obtain the proper license to play their music they engaged in copyright infringement. The tavern countered that it did, in fact have the proper license and that the lawsuit should be dismissed, but now a federal judge has ruled that the tavern has not produced sufficient evidence to demonstrate that it had permission to play the songs and that therefore the lawsuit against it may move forward.

The owners of the tavern also alleged that, even if the music companies can demonstrate infringement they should not be personally liable, due to protections provided by their corporate structure. The judge said that because the owner directly benefitted from the alleged infringement and fully owned and controlled the establishment, the owner could be personally liable. These decisions are no the final word in the lawsuit but simply a green light for it to move forward.

It seem that it should be the situation that if a tavern owner has a great service staff and good food the business will automatically be successful and profitable. But business owners must also comply with employment and other regulations as well as ensure that their business is structured correctly, not to mention understanding intellectual property law well enough to mitigate this type of lawsuit. It is important for any business owner to consult with experienced counsel to ensure that all these peripheral issues are in order so that they can focus on running their business.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Unlicensed Song Plays May Cost Florida Bar,” MARIMER MATOS, Dec. 6, 2011