A letter from ASCAP
Here's some background. ASCAP represents music creators, not artists. ASCAP is a non-profit membership association that distributes all of its net-revenues back to its songwriter, composer and publisher members. ASCAP is not the recording academy or the RIAA and is in no way involved in the sale (or profit) of music sales. Songwriters and publishers join ASCAP (or another performing rights organization) to collect public performance royalties. Often a songwriters' primary income comes from their performance royalties. Most writers can't tour or sell tee shirts. On behalf of them, we offer licenses to perform their musical compositions - given that Federal Copyright Law makes it clear that anyone who publicly performs copyrighted music needs permission to do so. It doesn't matter if it's a radio station, a cable channel, an Internet site, a ringtone provider or a club. ASCAP protects the rights of music creators and for over 90 years has been collecting for our members so that they can earn a living.
Just as a bar needs a liquor license (which costs money), they can obtain permission to publically perform copyrighted music through an ASCAP license (a performing rights license). Being a music blog, you know that music adds real value to many environments. A bar without music is rather dull. Having music in an establishment is an enhancement and a music license is an investment in that business. A small establishment's license from ASCAP can be under $1 a day to play any of ASCAP's 8.5 million musical works 24/7.
In terms of how these 'venue licensing' fees go back to the songwriters, it would be cost prohibitive to track all venue plays and pay based on that method so we use local broadcast surveys and distribute based on them. We are aware that there are some writers whose copyrighted work is performed locally but who aren't getting played on local radio. So we set aside nearly $3 million for members below a certain earning level whose performances are not picked up. This program is called ASCAPLUS http://www.ascap.com/ascapplus/index.aspx and is available to all qualifying members.
We at ASCAP are of course passionate about music, and we only use legal action as a last resort - after many attempts at an amicable resolution have failed. There is a reason why ASCAP wins all of these lawsuits.
Federal law protects the intellectual property of music creators. The intent in publicizing these lawsuits is to build education and enforcement of the law and awareness of the plight of the music creator.
This situation is indeed regrettable, but it has long been ASCAP's experience that if we do not engage with club owners and other music users, many of them simply avoid their obligations to comply with the law - which in the end really hurts the individual songwriters who are in reality, the smallest of small business owners.
* ASCAP suing Hiro Ballroom & others