DANVERS – A Danvers music venue has been sued for copyright infringement for allegedly failing to pay licensing fees to play music at the club.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers announced Tuesday that it has filed a lawsuit against Breakaway in Danvers as well as six other establishments across the country.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Boston, alleges that Breakaway has failed to pay license fees required by a license agreement it signed with ASCAP in 2016. The organization terminated Breakaway’s license in November 2018, but the club continued to was playing ASCAP’s members’ music, the lawsuit states.
The organization sued Breakaway for copyright infringement in 2020 and the club failed to pay a settlement, the lawsuit said. The club has also refused to obtain an ASCAP license agreement, according to the suit.
Detached owner Joe Crowley denied the club has failed to pay license fees since 2016. He said the club has not paid dues during the pandemic because it was closed for eight months and had no live entertainment for a year and a half. He said he is in the process of negotiating with ASCAP about what the license fee should be.
Crowley criticized the organization for filing the lawsuit and making the dispute public.
“They think they can make people stronger by embarrassing them,” he said. “They don’t care about the reputation of businesses or how hard it has been during COVID.”
ASCAP is a member organization of songwriters, composers and music publishers. The organization says it licenses music to hundreds of thousands of bars, restaurants, radio stations and other businesses to allow them to legally play songs that are protected by copyright laws, whether the songs are performed by a live band or played through recorded music.
The lawsuit accused Breakaway of making “unauthorized public performances” of the copyrighted music. The lawsuit cited the July 31 performance of three specific songs — “That’s Life,” “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head” and “There, I’ve Said It Again.”
Crowley said the songs were played during a karaoke night at the club.
Crowley said he and ASCAP disagree on how much the club should pay in license fees, which he said is based on the size of a venue. Crowley said ASCAP is basing the fee on the size of the entire Breakaway building, and not just the entertainment portion of the club. The building, located on Route 1 in Danvers, also includes a restaurant and function room.
ASCAP says the average cost for bars and restaurants to obtain a license is less than $2 a day, and it gives them the right to play an unlimited amount of music and covers over 11.5 million songs. Almost 90% of license fees go directly to songwriters, composers and music publishers as royalties, the organization says. ASCAP says it represents more than 875,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers.
According to the lawsuit, ASCAP has attempted to contact Crowley or his representatives at least 14 times since July 23 to offer Breakaway a license. The suit asks that Breakaway be ordered to pay damages of not more than $30,000 nor less than $750 for each of the three alleged violations, plus the cost of the suit. The plaintiffs are listed as Universal-Polygram International Publishing Inc., Maraville Music Corp. and Music Sales Corporation.
Other businesses ASCAP has filed lawsuits against include the Calvin Theater in Northhampton, as well as venues in Texas, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Illinois. In a press release, ASCAP Executive Vice President of Licensing Stephanie Rulye said songwriters depend on royalties to make a living from their creative work.
“It’s only right that businesses that were fortunate enough to receive relief from the government during hard times to cover their expenses, like The Breakaway, should pay songwriters whose music brings such value to their establishments,” Rulye said. .
Breakaway took out two loans worth $307,379 through the Paycheck Protection Program, according to online records.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.