A few weeks after some newly-returned vets sang patriotic Toby Keith songs at a Colorado Springs bar's karaoke night in 2012, the bar owner found herself slapped with a $21,000 fine for not having permission to play the songs in her bar. LeShawn Carey registered the Carey-On Saloon with two of the three performing rights organizations that enforce copyright laws—ASCAP and SESAC—but not the third, BMI. She got in trouble for seven of the karaoke songs, five of them Keith's; the country star is repped by BMI. Carey says she's telling her story so other business owners know how important it is to register with, and pay fees to, all three organizations, the Gazette reports.
The rule is: Any establishment that uses music to "enhance" a patron's experience needs to register—even if the music in question is coming from the radio or a TV—and it's safest to register with all three, so that you're covered no matter whose music ends up getting played. How much? For one business owner, fees for all three organizations add up to $4,500 per year. The companies have various methods of tracking down business owners not in compliance; in Carey's case, she was reported by an undercover BMI rep. BMI's PR director insists fines are a "last resort," only after every effort has been made to bring a business into compliance. But Carey was already on BMI's radar after she previously closed the saloon in 2011. BMI told her she owed $1,200 at that point, but she didn't have the money, and when she re-opened, BMI wouldn't let her register unless she paid $8,693. It's not clear why the amount jumped so much.