Thought this was an interesting example of what we had discussed in class:
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In February, some patrons at Patrick’s Pub, which sees as many politicians as any government building, cobbled together a band. Their gig was unmemorable — until it sparked a lawsuit that could shut the bar down.
The bar’s owner, Patrick Griffin, is being sued by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or Ascap. The organization says the bar violated federal copyright law during the show and is seeking up to $120,000 in damages.
The lawsuit is hanging over this bar, which serves as a virtual annex to the nearby State House. Patrons, who are just about everyone who is anyone in Providence, are flocking to the defense of Mr. Griffin, a native of Ireland who opened the bar in 1992. He works at City Hall, approving all paychecks, and organizes the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“He came from Ireland, and the first thing he did as a good Irish immigrant, and he’s a friend of mine, was get a city job and open a pub,” said Vincent A. Cianci, the former mayor of Providence who spent five years in prison for corruption. Mr. Cianci, who is known as Buddy and now is the host of a radio show, invited Mr. Griffin and an Ascap lawyer onto his program two weeks ago to “bring them together,” he said.
Mr. Cianci is a fixture at the bar’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, where the beer flows freely and chivalry abounds — both bathrooms are reserved for women that day, while men are relegated to a portable toilet out back. It also holds a number of political fund-raisers.
Still, Mr. Cianci said, the bar “isn’t breaking any records in terms of attendance.” Mr. Griffin said Ascap offered to settle the case for $17,000, but he does not have the money, and he said he could not get a bank loan.
“We don’t have enough liquid cash in the business,” he said. “Right now we’re lucky to have the doors open.”
According to Ascap’s complaint, it made numerous efforts by mail and other communications over many years to inform Mr. Griffin of copyright violations. “Defendants have continued to perform copyrighted music without permission, abetting the public performance of such compositions in any such place or otherwise,” the complaint said. A lawyer for Ascap did not return repeated calls.
Mr. Griffin acknowledged that he ignored some of the letters and calls and said that he did not understand the point of others. He said he thought performers had to pay for copyright licenses.
To play live or recorded music in their establishments, business owners typically pay a licensing fee to three agencies — Ascap, BMI and Sesac — that represent millions of songwriters.
Mr. Griffin’s lawyer said an Ascap agent was at the bar in February. According to the complaint, four licensed songs were played — “Friend of the Devil” made famous by the Grateful Dead, “The Waiting” by Tom Petty, “Is This Love” by Bob Marley and “Ventura Highway” by America.
Mr. Griffin said he did not remember the show. He has stopped live entertainment and said he understood the need to protect artists. “I do believe that artists and songwriters deserve their share of royalties,” he said. “It’s the method by which they’re collected that’s a scam. It’s been a big education.”