City Paper is not for tourists
I did some more research on last week’s post on the death of karaoke at the Galaxy Hut. Begins with a little recap:
Arlington’s Galaxy Hut has killed karaoke. Owner Lary Hoffman says he pulled the plug last December after getting legal threats from “one of the agencies” that collect licensing fees for songwriters and composers.
Music copyright laws are effectively enforced by three licensing agencies, BMI, ASCAP and SESAC, which collect money from places that play music composed by the artists they represent. DJs, jukeboxes and karaoke machines all count as performances, giving songwriters a claim to royalties and the agencies a motive to collect. The agencies charge yearly fees based on a bar’s size, how often they play music and the kind of music they play (live, recorded or “enhanced recorded music,” like karaoke). The minimum fee for BMI, which claims to hold the licenses for half of the music played in the states, is $309. The maximum is more than $9,000. A BMI spokesman confirmed that the agency hires contractors to make anonymous rounds surveying which bars are in compliance. Songwriters get dibs on the pool of fee payments based on estimates of how often their songs get played. That arithmetic factors in radio plays, national tours and, to a small extent, karaoke performances.
Hoffman wouldn’t specify which agency came a-knocking, or just how much money they demanded. He did say the sum would eclipse any extra revenue he earns with the attraction of yodeling for a crowd of intoxicated strangers. Hoffman adds that he shelled out a hefty sum to pay back fees. Now, unless there’s a live band (and he says he books indie bands that don’t have licensing agreements), Thursday nights will feature the same entertainment as the rest of the week, tunes from an internet jukebox, which pays the fees automatically.