Virginia Beach

Copyright infringement lawsuit could cost Oceanfront bar thousands

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) -- ASCAP, the company that collects royalties for songwriters and artists, is suing a Virginia Beach Oceanfront bar for copyright infringement.

“It is the law that when you play someone’s music you should be paying them,” said Jackson Wagener, ASCAP's Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs.

ASCAP collects license fees from establishments and the money goes back to the songwriters. 

"Songwriters earn their livelihoods by licensing the performance right granted to them under the copyright law," said ASCAP Executive Vice President of Licensing Stephanie Ruyle in a press release. "Any business using copyrighted music has the opportunity to obtain permission to do so lawfully through a simple license, which covers the entire ASCAP repertory of over 11.5 million musical works. The average cost for bars and restaurants amounts to less than just $2 per day for the right to play an unlimited amount of music."

On Wednesday, the company filed a federal lawsuit against Lunasea and 11 other establishments nationwide for refusing to get the proper license.

“The one thing that these 12 establishments have in common is we made dozens of efforts stretching back over years to get these establishments properly licensed,’ Wagener added.

According to court paperwork, ASCAP contacted Lunasea 70 times in the last five years.

“There are so many people that go into the process of creating a song,” said copyright attorney Amy Pruett with Virginia Beach’s Williams Mullen law firm. 

Pruett tells 10 On Your Side the lawsuit could cost Lunasea thousands of dollars. 

“You could potentially have to pay at the very least $750 in statutory damages and sometimes up to $30,000 for each act of infringement,” she added. “So each song that was infringed on could cost you $30,000.” 

In this case, Lunasea is only being sued for three songs. ASCAP says it is simply to send a message.

“Our goal is not in these litigations to put someone out of business,” Wagener said.  “Our goal is to create awareness.  We always view litigation as a last resort and we make our best effort to license an establishment.”

10 On Your Side reached out to Lunasea’s owner, Colleen Cunningham, but haven’t heard back.

ASCAP says Lunasea and the other businesses listed below were offered licenses multiple times in order for them to use copyrighted music, but failed to do so: 

  • Barnacles, Duluth, Georgia
  • Dante's, Portland, Oregon
  • High Dive, Seattle, Washington
  • Knockouts Gentlemen's Club, Arcadia, California
  • Legends Sports Bar & Grill, Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Mangos Beach Bar, Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Margarita Jones, Huntington Park, California
  • Park Avenue, Dallas, Texas
  • Ralph's Rock Diner, Worcester, Massachusetts
  • Playhouse Nightclub, Los Angeles, California
  • Tortuga’s Latin Kitchen, Chicago, Illinois

“Music plays a key role in creating an emotional connection with customers; hundreds of thousands of businesses understand that and accept that a music license is part of the cost of doing business," Ruyle added. "Our goal is to have businesses comply with the law so that our members can be compensated for use of their work, and the establishments sued today have decided not to pay songwriters. By filing these actions, ASCAP is standing up for songwriters whose creative work brings great value to all businesses that publicly perform their music.”


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