Music industry sues Concord eatery

The music industry is taking legal action against the Capital Grille in Concord, the latest in a series of lawsuits it has been filing against restaurants and other entertainment venues for letting live performers sing such songs as “Born to Be Wild” and “Joy to the World” without paying for the right to use them.

In a suit filed Oct. 20 in U.S. District Court in Concord, Broadcast Music Inc., joined by such other industry heavyweights as Vivendi Universal Entertainment, Sony Corporation of America, Rondor Music International and Warner/Chappell Music – along with musicians such as Sheryl Crow and Paul Simon – charged that the Capital Grille unjustly profited from the performance of 13 songs.

The songs include Steppenwolf’s classic “Born to Be Wild,” the Simon and Garfunkel tune, “Cecilia,” Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Joy To the World.”

The last song is licensed to Rondor Music International, according to the suit.

The complaint said that BMI warned Capital Grille that it was infringing on the companies’ copyrights, and that such unauthorized public performance cause the companies “great and incalculable damage.”

Capital Grille is a restaurant on Main Street in downtown Concord frequented by State House politicians during lunch hour. At night, it offers live music once or twice a week, sometimes with a cover charge, said co-owner Neville Pereira, who is named individually in the suit with his partner Fred Fricker. The lounge area seats roughly 50, Pereira said.

Pereira said that no company ever warned him about any copyright infringement, and he only learned about the suit when notified about it by NHBR Daily.

“Why are they coming after little people – a small struggling business like us – with a sledgehammer?” he asked. “This is so trivial. We don’t have a flick of a chance against such heavy hitters.”

But BMI spokesman Jerry Bailey told NHBR Daily that the organization keeps detailed computerized logs and claims it did warn the Capital Grille by phone 27 times, written some 15 letters and made three personal visits since December 2002.

“To say they know nothing about it is hard to believe,” Bailey said.

BMI files several dozen such suits a year against various establishments that refuse to pay for a license to perform copyrighted music, Bailey said. The cost of the licenses ranges from $283 a year to some $8,000 a year, depending on the size of the establishment. If a venue doesn’t pay up, BMI will pay local independent contractors to visit it and document that performers are playing copyrighted music. Eventually, he said, they will go to court as a last resort.

The size of the business doesn’t matter, he said. “There are no smaller businesses than most of the songwriters we represent.” – BOB SANDERS

Categories: News