Toby Keith, Large Segment of the Music Industry Are Suing a Tiny North Texas Bar

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A half hour south of Fort Worth and a couple of miles down a narrow Farm-to-Market road near Alvarado, you'll find the Turkey Creek Bar & Grill. It's an easy-going place with a dirt parking lot, corrugated roof and a generous front porch. You could almost call it a honky-tonk, but it's probably fairer just to say its a friendly watering hole where you can kick back, enjoy a cold one and treat yourself to an evening of midget wrestling.

Somehow, despite its remote location and welcoming atmosphere, Turkey Creek has made Toby Keith very, very mad. Stevie Nicks, too. And Hank Williams Jr., Pat Green and Evanescence. Matter of fact, a sizable chunk of the U.S. music industry, including record labels like Sony and EMI, is taking aim at Turkey Creek in a federal lawsuit.

The musicians and record labels, led by rights-management company BMI, claim the bar infringed upon a dozen copyrights on the night of August 12, 2011, by hosting an "unauthorized public performance of musical compositions from the BMI Repertoire." The lawsuit doesn't specify the occasion, nor does the bar's Facebook timeline, but the court filings do include a copy of the set list, which includes Nicks' "Landslide" and "Rhiannon"; Evanescence's "Bring Me to Life"; and Toby Keith's "I Ain't As Good As I Once Was."

There's an interesting piece in The New York Times Magazine from a couple of years ago about BMI's efforts to get bars, restaurants, and other businesses to cough up license fees, so this isn't exactly a new phenomenon.

We called the bar, the owners of which had not yet seen the lawsuit. They said they'd take a look and let us know if they have anything to say. Meanwhile, enjoy Turkey Creek's famed wrestling:

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49 comments
zewkini
zewkini

This is interesting stuff but there's another thing: what if a band is playing cover songs at a private event - say a residential party or a wedding reception in a rented venue. Then what? 

cajunscouse9
cajunscouse9

Vultures. That's what the publishers are. Some squirrel from the publisher goes into a bar and scribbles down the artist played then a mom and pop bar owner gets a bill for 3 grand. The

Labels should pay the bar for free advertising of their artist.

Obummer
Obummer

Yo eyez just’a wanna tax dem little peeps.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

Note -the bar owner was asked many times, sometimes by the artists themselves, to stop violating their rights.  They even informed him of the penalties.

This isn't something that's happening to him - this is something he's doing to himself because he doesn't have any respect for our laws.

Benji Kauth
Benji Kauth

He never was the sharpest tool in the shed. Old business models die hard.

William Jordan Gunkel
William Jordan Gunkel

So this is clear - this is an action instigated by the major record labels who control the rights to almost all major hits of the modern era. If the major artists are to blame in any way it's for not having a backbone and standing up for the little guy. After all, the artist makes the vast majority of their income from live performances and merchandise, not from a jukebox.

George Platt
George Platt

I guess this means that Toby Keith doesn't "Love This Bar".....

Lynn Holmes
Lynn Holmes

LMAO, but if he could catch you, he probably would

rzimmerman1
rzimmerman1

This whole BMI/ASCAP thing seems like a racket to me. After spending only a few minutes looking at how it works, it seems pretty obvious. Let's say I open a small coffee shop and as a supporter of local music, I play songs from obscure local/regional artists. Since I want to be totally legal and do everything by the book, I pay for blanket licenses with BMI and ASCAP for $3000 per year each. Then BMI and ASCAP skim their money off the top to pay their management and local agents. Of the money that's left, 50% goes to publishers and the other 50% goes to top grossing touring acts that have nothing to do with local music and artists. So none of my money goes to anyone you might be listening to in my coffee shop. And if I decide to really support local artists and go to a live music only format, I still have to pay the band along with the same fees to BMI/ASCAP out of fear that someone someday might play a cover song for which I could face crippling legal bills if caught. Yep, it sounds like extortion to me...

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

They're gonna be up turkey creek without a paddle

Chris McInnis
Chris McInnis

i wouldn't fully expect axl to run unless it's for a jelly doughnut..

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

Eric,

What I would like to know, was the bar warned before the lawsuit?  Although, ignorance is no defense it would provide some context.  Did they ignore the request or tell the label to get lost?  Or was this label's first contact and a way of getting their attention.

I'll wait to point fingers until that is known.

John Juett
John Juett

As an occasional cover artist, this "lost royalties"will be a drop in the bucket the PR disaster this will be for the artists and list sales.....IF everyone will boycott any artists that support this! BMI IS the problem IMHO. Im sure this is nothing more than moneygrab and they need some weight to throw around. And, are they gonna go back 50 years to recover all that " lost" opportunity.... Scumbags

Bobtex
Bobtex

As anyone who has ever operated a bar,  restaurant, retail store, or any commercial place where music is provided to customers must know, the cost of that music is just a cost of doing business (like collecting and paying sales taxes, paying for the beer that you sell, etc.).  The U.S. Constitution is the basis for copyright ownership, which provides that the copyright owners are entitle to charge for the use of their property.  Unauthorized use is theft.  If a customer steals a six-pack from Turkey Creek, I bet the owners of the bar would try to get paid for the unauthorized use of their property (beer).  The owners of the music that Turkey Creek is illegally providing to its customers (presumably to draw them and keep them in the bar drinking the beer that they sell to them) are just doing the same thing--trying to get paid for the unauthorized use of their property.  The way that almost every other bar handles this is what is called a "blanket license."  The bar just pays a relatively small annual fee to the owners of the music (represented by BMI and ASCAP), and everyone is happy.  Sorta.

Bo Howell
Bo Howell

so in other words they're suing the place over what they played in a jukebox? fuckin lame

Sarah O'Rear
Sarah O'Rear

Pathetic bullshit. It's not like they'd lose anything! Each of those "artists" can suck my nonexistent dick.

Sarah O'
Sarah O'

And fuck'em all for  it.  Pretty sure no notoriety is going to come from this tiny ass bar that nobody has ever heard of-- what the hell did it hurt? Sorry bastards.

ChrisYu
ChrisYu topcommenter

'let us know if they have anything to say'.....first we gotta call those twin midget lawyers from those infomercials!

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

So, was a cover band playing those songs? Was a DJ spinning those discs without coughing up royalties?

Pretty hard to work up any sympathy for BMI either way.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@William Jordan Gunkel  

Neither BMI nor ASCAP require that you contract with them in order to collect royalties on your copyrights.


They are merely aggregators.


Given the size of the Sony and EMI playlists, those companies probably consider it cost effective to take collection of royalties and enforcement of copyrights in house.

notmadeomoney
notmadeomoney

@George Platt You need to pay for use of that lyric.

Bobtex
Bobtex

@rzimmerman1 The vast majority of the artists represented by BMI and ASCAP comprise the "obscure local/regional artists" that you champion.  ASCAP and BMI were organized as a practical way for ALL writers and composers to get paid in a way that is acceptable to THEM.  You pay your local band because they are providing the music delivery service to you.  You pay your writers and composers because they are creating the product that the local musician delivers to you. 

anon
anon

@rzimmerman1 this is untrue. ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC (yes, there is a third one that is much smaller but you have to pay them too) cannot force exclusivity on the clients they represent. if you are truly only playing music from a small number of local artists, you can work out a deal with them (and/or their songwriters) to pay them directly for the rights to play their music. most writers/artists don't want to do that because it's a pain in the ass for someone to spend hours and hours of their time working up a contract with a restaurant or venue that has a high likelihood of closing down in a year or less. unless you are arguing to amend the Constitution to reject the validity of copyright, the rest of this is just complaining about the fact that you don't want to pay for something that isn't yours. if these local/regional acts don't want to deal with you directly but you still want to play their music, suck it up and pay, let your coffee shop operate with no music, or write your own music. I would also note that BMI and ASCAP are subject to rate courts and are thereby highly regulated. if a customer feels they are being gouged on the yearly fee, they can take the company to court. this is much simpler and easier than filing a lawsuit. you are just going in front of a judge and making your case. let's say you literally use the music of only one artist represented by BMI, and you only do so once a year. if you can prove it, the judge can and will force BMI to adjust your yearly fee to reflect the amount that you actually use their copyright. the logistical headache of doing this is the reason most small bars and restaurants don't.

StupidHippies
StupidHippies

@Rumpunch1 BMI and ASCAP typically will try to work with a venue to get them to sign on. I wouldn't be surprised if this bar's owners had a 'fuck you' kind of attitude...

PersistentID2345
PersistentID2345

@Rumpunch1 It costs 350 or so to file a federal lawsuit plus administrative/attorney costs. It doesn't cost quite as much to send a one page request for compliance form letter. This practice has been going on nationwide for decades.

James080
James080 topcommenter

@John Juett  

John, it's a matter of protecting the copyright. If a copyright holder becomes aware of an unauthorized use of their property, they must act to protect their rights to the material, otherwise they will waive their copyright and lose exclusive rights to the material. They likely would rather not sue the bar, and they likely will settle for a nominal amount, but they have to act to protect their interest.

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

@Bobtex What if you sell music?  Is that advertising or performance?  Just wondering.

todd
todd

@Sarah O' That's an easy attitude to take for the artists mentioned in the article.  But if you apply that attitude to them than you also have to apply it to the little know artists still fighting to make a living, and they can't afford to have their product used without payment.  

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

@Sarah O'what the hell did it hurt? At the time nothing .As this makes it way through the courts their wallets are going to feel the sting !

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulkSo, a business was playing copyrighted music in a commercial setting as a form of entertainment in order to make a profit and pocketed the money that should have been paid as a royalty to the copyright owner ...

Pretty hard to work up any sympathy for Turkey Creek Bar and Grill.


Let me know what your perspective is when someone uses your property, doesn't ask to; and, doesn't pay you for it.


http://www.bmi.com/about/

anon
anon

@TheCredibleHulk Regardless of who covers the songs, they have to pay royalties. Those royalties go to the song writers, not the artists (sometimes those are one and the same, but not always, especially as musicians become popular without any particular musical talent). And they don't get paid by the band covering the songs. They get paid by the venue that is putting on the public performance. 

The DO writes about wealthy musicians to grab headlines but the overwhelming majority of the fees collected by BMI will be passed on to people who are middle class or upper middle class at best. Most songwriters that you've never heard of don't live on million dollar budgets. When you help write a hit song and depend on the royalties to support your family, you tend to get mad when a bar uses the music you created to make money selling alcohol and tells you that it's above paying for the privilege. 

rzimmerman1
rzimmerman1

I was actually thinking about all the musicians from the 1950's who were ripped off by the music industry when I wrote that. This just seems like another moneymaker for the music industry, but I wonder how much of the money they squeeze out of business owners ever reaches any of the artists.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Wtf? The only thing going on here is that it is easier to shake down a bar than a kid downloading songs.

rzimmerman1
rzimmerman1

@anon @rzimmerman1 For the record, I don't own a coffee shop but I was just interested in finding out more about ASCAP/BMI/SESAC. Thanks for the info. It still seems like a form of legal extortion to me.

Bobtex
Bobtex

@Rumpunch1 @Bobtex "Selling" a cd, or a download, of a music performance does not require payment of royalties.  The "performance" for which royalties are due is either a live show or concert or the playing of a recorded performance in a public venue.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I used to play in a bar on Henderson. There were 5 in the band, we played originals and covers, rarely grossed over 200 per night, so Sir Paul and Yoko want a cut? The likes of us deprive them of a pittance of what Allen Klein stole. Some legal technicalities are unreasonable realities. I wonder if the Cavern had this problem when the Beatles were playing Chuck Berry.

KennethDenson
KennethDenson

@todd not arguing (at least argumentatively) but the bigger problem for little known artists is that they are little known...they probably get a better deal out of being heard by several regulars at a local bar than they do out of waiting for their cut from BMI.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

They go after the venue because the artists have no money.

louschell
louschell

@anon @TheCredibleHulk  So if I own a bar and play my ipod over the loudspeaker during business hours I have to pay royalties for that?  And if a band plays a cover of a famous song I have to pay for that too?  

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@rzimmerman1 

Actually BMI and ASCAP are fairly equitable.  They were formed out of the abuses that you mentioned.


Chuck was stiffed by the record companies that he recorded with.

StupidHippies
StupidHippies

@rzimmerman1 Squeeze out of business owners? Artists don't need to join publishing companies and businesses don't need to play music by artists who are members of those publishing companies. No one is getting 'squeezed' or 'extorted.'

If business owners don't want to pay.. don't play. They can perform their own music that they write themselves. 

anon
anon

@rzimmerman1 @anon But who are they extorting money from? Coffee shop owners who want to play music that they don't own the rights to? If the people who owned the copyrights to this content don't want to be paid for their efforts, they don't have to contact the PROs to collect fees on their behalf. They can just do it for the love of creating something and then watching everyone else make money off it. By engaging with ASCAP or BMI, they are telling the world that yes, they do in fact want to be paid for their work and they've hired someone to do it on their behalf. 

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@louschell @anon @TheCredibleHulk 

Fair enough. There's not a lot of context, here, and I've not ever heard about this place previously.

In the article, it is made to sound like this was a one-time event attended by regular bar patrons maybe watching some friends of theirs performing. I've been in that situation a few times and I don't think we ever paid any royalties to BMI or ASCAP to entertain our friends by singing a few of our favorite popular songs for them at a local watering hole.

After reading a few of the responses it seems like this place may be doing this regularly and thumbing their noses at "The Powers That Be" regarding this issue. If they are knowingly doing that and they have been warned, well, than I guess that they'll get what's coming to them. I'm sure their legal budget isn't quite as large as BMI & Co.

callholdstudio
callholdstudio

@louschell @anon @TheCredibleHulk 

Yes.  The annual fee isn't that expensive and (like many costs of business) can be written off as a business expense. I'm shocked that ANY restaurant/bar/nightclub owner doesn't already know this. 


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