Mt. Vernon club sued over music

August 01, 2007|By June Arney | June Arney,Sun reporter

A Baltimore nightspot has been sued in federal court for copyright infringement for allegedly performing music compositions without authorization.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, members of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which represents songwriters, composers and music publishers, charge that the Red Maple, a trendy club in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood, ignored repeated notices to obtain a license to play songs, including Madonna and Prince hits and the popular "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson.

The suit was one of 26 filed this week against nightclubs, bars and restaurants in 17 states. ASCAP represents more than 250,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers and negotiates licenses on their behalf.

"They have used our members' property without permission," said Vincent Candilora, senior vice president of licensing at ASCAP. "A song is an intangible, so they think it's free. It's not fair to the other establishments in Baltimore who are paying. It's an unfair competitive advantage."

Red Maple management was contacted 39 times over the span of a year about their obligation to pay a $1,400 annual license fee, Candilora said.

"We're talking $3.83 a day - that's all," Candilora said. "It's just a bad business decision."

The lawsuit specifically alleges violations on two dates in May and is filed against Lifestyle LLC, identified as the Red Maple at 930 Charles St., and Leonard Clark and Gyeong M. Cho.

"As we are aware of ASCAPS criteria for collecting fees from establishments such as ours we go out of our way to ensure that we only play music which does not fall under their licensing," Clark, the Red Maple managing partner, said yesterday in an e-mail. "As we focus primarily on obscure, hard to find music from around the world we find avoiding ASCAP musicfar easier than they choose to believe and thus fully disagree with their contention that we are in violation of the law."

Plaintiffs are music publishers Tarpo Music Publishing, EMI April Music Inc., Notting Dale Songs Inc., Controversy Music, Basement Boys Music Inc., C-Water Publishing Inc., WB Music Corp., Webo Girl Publishing Inc., EMI Waterford Music Inc., Jobete Music Co. Inc., and Rodsongs.

The Red Maple was the sole Maryland establishment sued for infringement. Others spanned the country from California to Connecticut.

Red Maple opened in late 2001 and began attracting a hip clientele.

ASCAP routinely sends monitoring teams to new establishments across the country to check on licensing of any music played, with lawsuits a last resort, Candilora said.

He estimated that his organization takes legal action between 250 and 300 times a year.

Max S. Oppenheimer, a professor of law at the University of Baltimore, said it's the venue that raises the issue of copyright infringement.

"The key word is publicly," Oppenheimer explained. "You and your friends can sit around and listen to your CD collection because it isn't a public performance. Do the same thing in a public place, where you charge, and ... it violates copyright."

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