Sixth Circuit Upholds Infringement Finding Against Bar's Owner for Copyright Violations

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June 6 — A bar's owner “is vicariously liable for the pervasive copyright infringement at his restaurant” for his failure to secure a license covering the songs that musicians performed in that establishment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held June 6 .

Prior to filing a lawsuit, Broadcast Music Inc. had repeatedly contacted Meadowlake Ltd. with respect to Rafters Bar and Grill, a golf-course restaurant in Canton, Ohio that was operated by Meadowlake. BMI's requests that Rafters stop infringing its copyrights by performing BMI controlled music were unanswered, prompting the filing of an infringement lawsuit. Meadowlake, Roy E. Barr—who owned 95 percent of Meadowlake—, and Roy's son, Philip Barr, were named defendants. Meadowlake and Philip Barr evaded the suit by declaring for bankruptcy and the district court then granted BMI summary judgment of infringement against Roy Barr. The district court ordered Roy Barr to pay $10,800 in statutory damages and $17,315 in attorneys' fees.

The appeals court affirmed the summary judgment ruling, finding that Roy Barr's conduct satisfied the vicarious liability standard set forth in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 U.S. 913, 75 U.S.P.Q.2d 1001 (2005). That standard, the Sixth Circuit said, allows for liability against a defendant who profits from the infringement and fails to take steps to stop it.

The appeals court was unmoved by Roy Barr's arguments that he personally never performed the infringing songs and that his son, not him, managed the restaurant. “A defendant's ignorance about the infringement or the performances does not blunt vicarious liability,” Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton said. Indeed, “The point of the doctrine is to encourage people like Roy to police performances at their restaurants in the first place,” the court said.

Judges Danny J. Boggs and Helene N. White joined the opinion.

BMI was represented by Robert E. Chudakoff of Ulmer & Berne, Cleveland. Roy Barr represented himself.

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