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$210 million music copyright lawsuit filed against bar

Citizen Staff Writer



A group of music licensing companies has filed a $210 million copyright infringement lawsuit against an East Side Tucson bar.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, names Michael Cesario, who holds the liquor license for the Salty Dawg II, 6121 E. Broadway.

Artists and songwriters represented by the 13 companies suing Cesario include Huey Lewis & the News, Paula Abdul, Color Me Badd, Taylor Dayne, Aretha Franklin, Atlantic Starr, Dave Koz, Tommy Page, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Chris Isaak and Janet Jackson.

The copyright infringement suit is one of 26 filed Monday against bars, restaurants and nightclubs in 17 states, according to a press release from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

No details on how the Tucson bar allegedly infringed on ASCAP copyrights were immediately available or whether it included jukebox, karaoke or live tunes.

According to the press release, each establishment sued “has publicly performed the copyrighted musical works of ASCAP’s songwriter, composer and music publisher members without obtaining a license from ASCAP to do so.”

“ASCAP reached out to each of the establishments repeatedly over a significant period of time before taking legal action,” the press release says. “In every instance, the establishment refused to obtain a license, but continued to perform ASCAP members’ music without permission, resulting in the filing of the infringement actions.”

Cesario did not return a call seeking comment.

Music copyright companies are on a campaign to collect royalty fees from restaurants, bars and other establishments that offer live music by performers who play songs written and made famous by other musicians.

It comes on the heels of a massive music industry crackdown in the past several years on illegal downloads from the Internet. Whether it’s a professional recording taken from a Web site or an accordion player singing a Jimmy Buffet tune in a small venue, the industry is working to collect royalties for whoever wrote the songs.

When a songwriter signs with one of the licensing companies – the country’s three biggest are BMI, SESAC and ASCAP – his or her music is copyrighted.

SESAC spokesman Shawn Williams said money collected by the licensing companies provides most of the income for many songwriters.

“The law provides damages ranging from $750 to $150,000 for each song performed without proper authorization,” Williams says.

Gannett News Service contributed to this article.

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