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October 18th, 2006 Michael Byrne | Rogue of the Week
 

American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers

     
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Last December, local soul band the Black Notes had the "gall" to play three cover songs—"That Girl" and "Slippin' into Darkness" by Stevie Wonder, and "The Wind Cries Mary" by Jimi Hendrix—at Imbibe in Southeast Portland.

Most of us would see that as harmless enough. But not so this week's Rogue, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which happened to have one of its agents in the crowd.

To ASCAP, those three cover songs were a mortal sin because the Black Notes were performing copyrighted songs that happened to be safeguarded from "abuse" by the barely comprehensible bureaucracy that isĘASCAP.

The result: As temporary employer of the band, Imbibe now faces copyright-infringement lawsuits by ASCAP on behalf of Wonder and the Hendrix estate, two of the 20th century's most successful musicians.

Yes, Imbibe could have been protected from potentially thousands of dollars in fines by buying a license for $2,000 from ASCAP to play copyrighted material by ASCAP artists. This would have given Imbibe access to a nearly bottomless stock of music, yet still would give it no protection from artists who aren't members of those organizations (a side note: ASCAP doesn't publish a full list of its catalog, allowing only song-by-song searches).

Imbibe owner Michael Dorr declined comment.

ASCAP spokesman Phil Crosland calls the litigation a "regrettable" last step that follows ASCAP's repeated requests for Imbibe to get a license.

But the Rogue desk wonders how musicians get their fair share anyway, since license fees paid by places such as Imbibe are based on square footage, not how many times a song is played from the catalog of ASCAP-licensed musicians. The number of songs played is obviously untraceable—unless, of course, there's an ASCAP snoop in the venue.

 
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