ASCAP Now Demanding License From Venues That Let People Play Guitar Hero

from the can't-listen-without-paying-up dept

We’ve been detailing how the various collection societies around the globe have been trotting out all sorts of dubious reasoning to try to get more people to pay up for a license. In the US, ASCAP has been particularly ridiculous, seeking public performance licenses for (legally licensed) ringtones as well as the 30-second previews you find on music download stores like iTunes. ASCAP has already succeeded in forcing YouTube to pay up as well. Of course, the end result has actually been harming many up and coming songwriters and musicians, as more and more venues are choosing to forego music entirely, because it’s just not worth having to pay up the fees that ASCAP charges.

In the latest overreach, sent in by reader faceless, ASCAP is demanding a licensing fee from a venue that has the video game Guitar Hero for people to play. While the venue does sometimes have live musicians, it has purposely chosen to only allow original music (no covers) from artists and songwriters not covered by ASCAP, to avoid having to pay the fee. As the venue owner notes, it’s ridiculous to think that the venue should have to pay for a license just to let people play Guitar Hero, saying, “patrons are paying for the entertainment of the game not for the listening value of the music.” But, of course, that’s not how ASCAP views any of these things, insisting that the value itself comes from the music, and thus the songwriters must absolutely be paid. Of course, this isn’t the first time ASCAP has come down hard on music video games. Earlier this year, it insisted that the video game companies themselves should pay performance licensing fees as well — so in this case it looks like they’re trying to double or triple dip.

Of course, the most likely end result? The venue will drop the game, and fewer people will hear the music. This harms everyone — the songwriters, the musicians, ASCAP and the venue. But ASCAP seems to think it’s the right move. This is why more and more musicians are recognizing that what’s good for ASCAP is not good for songwriters.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: ascap

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “ASCAP Now Demanding License From Venues That Let People Play Guitar Hero”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
59 Comments
known coward says:

I guess i am lost

I would have thought that paying for and owning the game would be enough to license the use of the materials in the game. ASCAP gets its fee’s from the game producer who then pass’s the additional costs to the end user. I would think the bar could even charge folks to play the game and not have to cough up additional money to the song writers.

Lobo Santo's Ugly Cat says:

Re: I guess i am lost

Yup, you are lost.

The license is for individual, not commercial use. By using it in a bar, it is effectively a public performance, different from a home use.

Mike, it doesn’t matter WHY the patrons are enjoying the music (play or just listening to it), the effect is the same. Try playing the game without music, it’s pretty dull!

Ryan says:

Re: Re: I guess i am lost

Try playing the game without a display device; now that would be dull. I know that I for one send out checks every time I play video games in a bar to the tv device manufacturer that we all enjoy watching, not to mention the chair makers that we can all sit on without discretion, and the artists that designed the wallpaper that without which the venue would be so aesthetically unpleasant. All the other contributors to the Guitar Hero game need to get their hand in the kitty as well; it doesn’t matter if we enjoy the animations in the background, those guys definitely need to get paid for it. I mean, the selection of music is completely arbitrary and ultimately quite pointless in terms of making a good game, but the actual game coders and producers were the ones that created an innovated contribution to the public – they get the lion’s share.

Lobo Santo's Ugly Ferret says:

Re: Re: Re: I guess i am lost

Standard stupid mixing of ideas there Ryan:

When you buy the video monitor, you are paying for the whole thing. When you use music, you are paying for a use, not ownership.

If you want to pay a few million dollars for a single version of Guitar Hero, I am sure there are bands that would sell you their songs (probably $10,000 – $20,000 a crack) and that still wouldn’t give you resale rights.

Stop making the mistake of confusing ownership with license rights. It’s a foolish concept.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I guess i am lost

“When you buy the video monitor, you are paying for the whole thing. When you use music, you are paying for a use, not ownership.”

That gets said a lot, and while I’m sure it’s true it raises a question:

Where is this stated? Is it on display somwhere on the CD packaging where I can read it before I buy it for CDs? Is it on the box or packaging of the video game where I can read it before I buy it?

It seems to me that, given that there are several different licenses and not all bands/artists/labels/etc. require the same licenses for different things, that it’s reasonable for the consumer to expect to be informed about what they’re buying and what stipulations are involved BEFORE buying. I mean, you can’t sell someone something with no upfront stipulations and then suddenly start dictating what they do with it after the fact, like say on the inside of the cd label where it previously couldn’t be seen.

I’m not saying that this is what’s currently happening; it’s been so long since I’ve bought a CD or videogame that I just don’t know. But it seems evident that if you ask most people what they bought from Best Buy with their Christmas gift card, they’re going to say, “I got the new Killers CD”, rather than “I got the residential limited license to play the new Killers music”.

If labels REALLY wanted to stop the infringement of their licenses like in this case, shouldn’t they do a better job of promenently informing their customers what they’re buying?

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I guess i am lost

“If you want to pay a few million dollars for a single version of Guitar Hero, I am sure there are bands that would sell you their songs (probably $10,000 – $20,000 a crack) and that still wouldn’t give you resale rights.”

Once again an exaggerated view of the value of such things. In a free market things are worth what people will pay for them. The buyer sets the price not the seller. There is a word for the system where the seller gets to set the price – it’s called a monopoly. It’s generally recognised to be unfair and a bad idea.

The distinctions you talk of have been invented by music industry middle men as a means of lining their own pockets.

Yakko Warner says:

Re: Re: Re: I guess i am lost

I’m sure having friends over would be a “private performance” rather than “public”, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one or more of these music licensing companies tried going after people playing music at parties (whether from a game or from a CD in the stereo) in their own home anyway.

The Best Buy demo is an interesting question, though.

For that matter, have they gone after department stores that sell stereos or sound systems, for having those devices playing music?

What about the TV departments that play movies on their wall of TVs? Is the MPAA missing out on a revenue stream there?

Or maybe I shouldn’t joke about that…

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I guess i am lost

“For that matter, have they gone after department stores that sell stereos or sound systems, for having those devices playing music?”

I’d be shocked if that sort of thing wasn’t covered in their distributor’s contract. Using images and likeness of a distributed product for in store promotional value is pretty common dist. contract language, from what I understand…

Terry Hart (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I guess i am lost

That would be exempted under 17 USC §110(7):
“(7) performance of a nondramatic musical work by a vending establishment open to the public at large without any direct or indirect admission charge, where the sole purpose of the performance is to promote the retail sale of copies or phonorecords of the work, or of the audiovisual or other devices utilized in such performance, and the performance is not transmitted beyond the place where the establishment is located and is within the immediate area where the sale is occurring”

@Rob – ASCAP collects royalties for the public performance of music compositions, regardless of who plays them.

Ispep says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I guess i am lost

@Yakko Warner – I’m not 100% sure on this but technically they’re not suppose to show movies on TV’s without approval from the label; at least not show it in it’s entirety. I believe they can show short clips to demo it to a customer but they can’t leave it running.

It’s sort of like hold music. If you notice a lot of companies no longer have it. I believe they’re not even allowed to broadcast a local radio station as their hold music either although I’ve noticed that some establishments will broadcast their XM which I don’t believe falls under the same restrictions.

KevinJ (profile) says:

Re: Re: I guess i am lost

Ever hear of an arcade machine? They’ve been around for a few decades, and the makers of Guitar Hero actually put out an arcade version of the game. And with a price tag of about $8,000 for a new machine I’m guessing they are meant for commercial use. So, are you claiming that an arcade game meant for commercial use isn’t licensed for commercial use?

KevinJ (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I guess i am lost

But the bar is using the arcade version of Guitar Hero. If you follow the link about the demand for a license from the venue you will notice the post where this all started. It has a subject of “Any ops having problems with Guitar Hero arcade?” Now that appears to be asking about the arcade version of Guitar Hero, so why the talk about the home version?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: heh

The problem is real artist aren’t getting paid they are being robbed by the insdustry people like you and pseudo artists like beyonce who do things like
How bout if I come into your job and tell you what you can and cannot make and garnish 90 percent of your check you would bitch
The problem is the music industry is a joke and they are all thieves including 98 percvent of the people on tv

Guitar Zero says:

A couple scenarios for proper payment of these royalties.
1. Royalties are only paid on songs that achieve a perfect score.
2. All other scores should be either : i.) considered a derivative work and therefore subject to different rates. ii.) a partial representation of the original work and subject to a reduced fee. You only got 53% of that song correct, here is your 53% bill.

herodotus (profile) says:

“If labels REALLY wanted to stop the infringement of their licenses like in this case, shouldn’t they do a better job of prominently informing their customers what they’re buying?”

It’s kind of like shrinkwrap software licenses. You get the impression that they are trying to pull a fast one on their customers.

But that’s wrong of course. It is the citizens job to understand and be informed about the arcana of IP law before they buy anything. If they don’t like the restrictive and unintuitive licenses that are underhandedly attached to all of the stuff they buy, they shouldn’t buy stuff.

It’s that simple.

All of you slashdot-reading freetards just pretend that it’s complex so that you can steal stuff with a clean conscience.

COMMIES!!

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“All of you slashdot-reading freetards just pretend that it’s complex so that you can steal stuff with a clean conscience.”

You forgot that we all just want something for free, the only word we know in the English language is “draconian”, and we all have an overwhelming sense of fake moral outrage….

known coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

and i read herodotus’ comments as sarcasm.

I am thinking the Fed’s are going to have to step in and give clear and concise law as to what is licensed and what is not. ( I am not being sarcastic, just living in fairy land) When i buy a box with a game in it, in my naivety, i think I own it. They have my money and I have their product. As long as i do not copy it and resell those copies i should be able to do whatever the fuck i want with it. Otherwise do not sell it to the public.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Now for some interesting concepts ...

ASCAP is demanding a licensing fee for the music in a commercial video game in a commercial setting. This is yet another example of a collection agency pushing the boundries. It happens in both what constitutes a public performance and ever increasing fees. With ever increasing fees people will begin finding alternatives cutting the collection agencies off. This has already happened in bars and clubs in Australia.

Eventually a Critical threshold will be reached where it is common knowledge that there are alternatives to the record labels and collection agencies. At that point a catastrophic failure will occur in the corporate music industry. Money will flow very rapidly from the record labels to the Independants, reshaping the entire music industry.

IshmaelDS (profile) says:

Okay, really?

I hope i’m wrong and just clicked on the wrong link but is this “news” story really coming from a thread in a forum with 1 post and 1 response? I’m all for ganging up on the collection society’s but I would like a little bit of evidence that this happened beyond 1 guy in a forum, if they are really going around the St. Louis area can we get a little corraborating(sp?) evidence?

Gib Wallis (user link) says:

ASCAP is good for musicians because they ARE musicians

What ASCAP stands for? The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

Contrary to some commenters, the record labels are not ASCAP. Performance rights societies collect fees for performances of music.

The venue mentioned here is a bar that is using a game to encourage people to meet and drink and spend money there.

Clubs always need to find ways to bring people in, and a lot of these involve spending money. Redecorating requires a designer. New menus require chefs and supplies.

Musical entertainment requires payment to the songwriters.

The success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band etc. depend upon the songs. People buying the Beatles pack will complain about the song selection or compliment the inclusion of their favorite songs.

According to the original post, ASCAP told the venue they were using the games like a JukeBox. I haven’t been there, but it seems likely the could be. Maybe they’re not.

But I notice that the venue doesn’t want to pay ASCAP for anything. I find it hard to believe they never play a radio or have a single local and unsigned artist who never ever sings a cover song that’s under ASCAP’s jurisdiction.

Regarding some of the bad arguments here… the exemption another commenter shared with us is for a department store having music playing for demonstration purposes of selling equipment. Department stores do not pay for that.

They do, however, pay for the Muzac in the elevator and the rest of the department store that is used to promote good feeling during a shopping experience.

That’s really what ASCAP is doing in these situations — going after people using music to promote their goods and services.

A nightclub will budget for promoters to organize events and bring people in. Songwriters deserve a piece of the pie for promoting venues just as any promotor or DJ if their music is used in this fashion.

It’s typical that music is devalued by the nightclub owners who will pay for a liquor license, a promotor, and bar renovations but somehow can’t cough up a few hundred dollars a year for the music that makes the bad drinks, drinkable, the ugly patrons sexier, and the salty bar snacks edible.

ASCAP also has many services available to fledgeling songwriters and artists and all the fees that local venues pay help to underwrite those costs.

A venue that regularly uses music to make money shouldn’t be so shocked that musicians (songwriters) want to be compensate for their work as well.

Josh says:

ASCAP is just a front

LMAO.. In the comments we have ASCAP being either the record industry crooks looking for extortion fees, but someone else claims they are songwriters and performers.

Then a full time classic rock cover band performer chimes in and relates how ASCAP put may musicians out of work.

I don’t think ASCAP is a group of musicians putting themselves out of work, that’s for sure…

Becky says:

ASCAP licensing

So, is ASCAP going to come knocking on my front door on New Year’s Eve to ensure that I have paid a licensing fee to allow my guests to play GuitarHero? Do I have to pay them a fee for singing in my shower this morning? Brings a whole new meaning to “the day the music died”. (Crap, do I have to pay a fee for typing that?)

As a musician myself, I can confidently say that ASCAP and BMI have gotten completely ridiculous and distorted the whole purpose of a worker’s union.

Anonymous Coward says:

I can only break it down like this
Why would you pay for cable tv but not the right to listen to music…It’s the same thing why do people safe guard motion pictures but not the music that makes those motion pictures interesting?
If it was your project you would want to get paid.
I think consumers need to stop passing the buck off on the little guy and fight for financial freedom
Purchasing the game only gets the game manufacturers the money which they then probably share a fraction of a cent.
Musicians have the right to make money
ASCAP can be beneficial I can say this as an artist.
Obviously the person that wrote this article is not so you can go with experience or just some idiot talking out his chocolate starfish

Steve says:

ASCAP is just a front

Everyone that works for ASCAP is either a composer or publisher. Therefore they own the rights to their material and can perform it anywhere they like. A lot of the smaller venues that could or did have live cover music cannot afford the annual licensing fees for ASCAP , BMI and SESAC so they don’t have cover bands. Thus putting some cover bands out of work, especially in a smaller rural market where there are not a lot of venues to play. So in a roundabout way it does affect cover bands.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »