The music industry has apparently found a new source of revenue: taxpayers.
ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) is, according to County Attorney Chuck Zambito, asking local governments to sign a licensing agreement for public performances of music and pay an annual fee for the privilege.
The fee varies based on population.
Legislator Ray Cianfrini called the fee "shakedown money" in the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.
The committee voted 4-1 (Cianfrini voted no) to sign the agreement and pay ASCAP an annual fee of $637.
The license agreement will protect the county from an ASCAP-initiated lawsuit over any public performances of music on county property, but also limits what the county can allow without additional licenses.
For example, the county can't host a community orchestra or band on its property without paying an additional licensing fee.
The license agreement also requires regular reporting of any events on county property -- such as the Holland Land Office Museum or the nursing home -- where music is played along with a copy of any program that goes with the event. If a band or DJ performs, the county must disclose the performer, provide contact information, and disclose whether the performer is licensed by ASCAP to perform ASCAP-licensed music.
"This is being discussed in every county in the state and most of them are saying they're just going to do it because it's not that much money and they don't want to fight it," Zambito said. "If we don't sign it, they're going to come around and see us."
According to Zambito, local governments that have refused to sign the agreement have already received visits from ASCAP auditors.
The penalty, according to a brochure published by ASCAP, for performing copyrighted music without permission is from $750 to $30,000 per song.
According to the brochure, a public performance of music is:
The Copyright Law defines a public performance as one “in a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gath- ered.”
The law requires a license for all public performances, whether from a recording or by a live musician.
ASCAP is only one licensing agency and doesn't own licensing rights to all of the songs currently under copyright. There's also BMI, for example, and Zambito said so far BMI hasn't started contacting local governments.
The license fee is some formula created by ASCAP, Zambito said, based on population and other factors.
"The bottom line is they just came up with some artificial number just to get money out of you," Zambito said.