In Seattle lately, ASCAP has been aggressive in trying to shake down small cafes and restaurants for licensing fees. They demand from several hundred to thousands of dollars a year. I'm referring to cafes, bars, and restaurants that are not hiring performers, but offer an occasional venue for local singer/songwriters, performers, and poets to share their art. The music is primarily originals or public domain, although some copyrighted material is performed by some performers. ASCAP also wants to be paid if the radio is on: even if its the cook listening to the ballgame in kitchen. (maybe they own the 7th inning stretch song) One cafe owner has canceled the weekly open mic. One paid a negotiated lower fee. Another is looking for a lawyer.
I was at a restaurant a few years ago when they sent a couple of thugs that to all appearances and verbal threats were there to work over a local guitarist who has steadfastly refused to pay this extortion: As he plays entirely his own original music he believes he is not obligated to. As he couldn't possibly pay the huge fee they demanded anyway (thousands) - and they knew that, we guessed they wanted to make an example. Fortunately they didn't catch him alone at closing as they expected, and left when a waitress called the police.
I wondered what advise or resources there are against these hustlers. I wonder if anyone here knows exactly what music use ASCAP or other entities are entitled to collect for, and what their legal entitlement is in terms of exact monetary compensation per use, and what legal recourse a cafe or restaurant owner may have to not be taken advantage of. I am referring here not to professional music or performance venues, but to restaurants and cafes, where performing music is offered as a community service, recorded music or radio is played in the background, and no exchange of money is involved for the music.
Perhaps there is a compliance code a restaurant can conform to: Only allowing originals, public domain or foreign artists. I would have thought that ASCAP or BMI etc. already collected from radio stations, but I guess they can double dip?