Earlier this week, the American Society of Composers, Artists, and Publishers (ASCAP) filed a lawsuit against popular Uptown brunch haunt Nickel and Rye alleging that it failed to pay licensing fees paid for music played in the bar.
Here’s how it generally works: in order for restaurants, bars, or other types of venues to play any kind of copyrighted music over their speakers, they must obtain and pay for a license from a performers rights organization like ASCAP. Those licensing fees are paid to songwriters, who receive royalties for their songs being played in these establishments. It’s a little bit complicated, but suffice it to say, a restaurant owner can’t (legally) just plug in their iPhone and fill their space with music they’re not paying for.
The lawsuit filed in the United States District Court’s Dallas division alleges that Nickel and Rye’s parent company MAB&G General LLC presented “public performances” of copyrighted songs at its Uptown location without obtaining the proper licensing. “Going back several years, ASCAP representatives have made numerous attempts to contact the defendants to offer an ASCAP license for Nickel and Rye,” the lawsuit reads. “ASCAP has contacted defendants by phone, by mail, by email, and in person.” According to the suit, Nickel and Rye refused all of ASCAP’s license offers.
At issue in this lawsuit are four specific songs — Nelly’s “E.I.,” J-Kwon’s “Tipsy,” “Hip Hop Hooray” by Naughty by Nature, and Salt n’ Pepa’s “Push It,” all of which Nickel and Rye allegedly played at the bar between December 2018 and June 2019. The suit alleges that these infringements have occurred “many” times, but only points to four specific incidents in that time frame.
In the suit, ASCAP seeks between $750 and $30,000 for each incident of infringement, which could add up to $120,000 in total damages. It also seeks to have the restaurant be “enjoined and restrained permanently” from playing the aforementioned songs in Nickel and Rye or any establishment owned by MAB&G General.
Nickel and Rye is one of 19 bars, restaurants, or venues across the country to be slapped with lawsuits from ASCAP this month. Earlier this year, the organization also sued more than a dozen restaurants and venues for similar alleged infractions.
“Music is enormously valuable to bars and restaurants, creating an emotional connection with patrons and providing the right ambiance to attract and retain customers,” said ASCAP executive vice president Stephanie Ruyle in a statement. “However, each of the establishments sued today has decided to use music without compensating songwriters. Hundreds of thousands of well-run businesses across the nation recognize the importance of paying music creators to use their music, and understand that it is both the lawful and right thing to do.”