Copyright law, like most types of law, is intensely convoluted. This is how we end up with instances like, say, a Harvard copyright professor getting a Youtube video on music copyright issues taken down by Sony for…copyright violations. But still, in most cases the law is the law for a reason. Right?
Recently, Chicago’s Piece Pizzeria found themselves in a vat of hot cheese when it was discovered that they had been operating live band karaoke without paying licensing fees to BMI. A representative from the publishing company actually went to the Pizzeria on one of the karaoke nights and named Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away” and Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” as songs performed. Rivers Cuomo and the entirety of RHCP are listed as plaintiffs in the case against the pizzeria. Read the whole lawsuit here.
This story has various layers (some might say like a pizza…I’ll stop) to it. According to the lawsuit, BMI attempted to reach the pizzeria by “phone, e-mail, in-store visits, and mail” 70 times since 2014 to get them to pay the performance fee. If that’s true, Piece Pizzeria was just asking to get sued. On the other hand, the suit says that unless the court stops the pizzeria from infringing on more copyrights, the plaintiffs will suffer “irreparable damage.” As far as I’m concerned, RCHP and Weezer have been two of the most popular rock bands in the world for at least the last twenty years. Does drunkenly singing “Suck My Kiss” or “Pink Triangle” to your friends at a pizzeria constitute as “irreparable damage” to multi-millionaire rock bands? I suppose that’s for the courts to decide. But this should serve as a warning to all karaoke-filled establishments: stick to the terrible MIDI recordings you’re used to and pay your fees to the corporate overlords of Big Music.