Wineries Get Help With Music Licensing Problems

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By Ayanna Alexander

It was stressful for Bert and Lynne Basignani, who run the small, Basignani Winery on the rural side of Baltimore County, Maryland, to make sure they were staying on the right side of copyright law by acquiring the right licenses for the music played at their vineyard.

Under copyright law, wineries that host live musical performances or even play recorded music at their vineyards need to acquire licenses. Some owners were forgoing them, either because they were too expensive or because they didn’t understand the process. For the Basignanis making payments to multiple music rights organizations put strain on their business.

“Honestly, we don’t have many musical events,” said Bert Basignani, who estimated they shelled out about $1,000 a year for licensing to three organizations. “Maybe a guitar player here and there. But, we just turn on the radio and have to pay multiple people for that. It adds up.”

Like many small winery operators, Basignani told Bloomberg BNA he doesn’t know who the organizations represent or why his winery must pay so much money for music that they aren’t even using.

“I don’t mind the concept of paying to use other people’s art, but the whole process was a little unclear,” Basignani said. “What we do know is if we don’t pay, we’ll get sued.”

Now, the trade association WineAmerica, with members from all 50 states, and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), one of the two largest copyright licensing organizations, has come up with a solution just for wineries who want their customers to enjoy some music along with their chardonnay.

License Tailored to Wineries

Blanket music licenses, which cover large catalogs of songs, ensures that songwriters and composers get paid when their works are used.

As wineries have sprouted up across the country, many having some form of musical entertainment, more and more were facing legal action for not having proper licenses. A lawsuit can mean thousands of dollars in legal costs and attorneys’ fees—not to mention damages if a vineyard is found to have infringed copyrights. The maximum statutory damages for copyright infringement can go as high as $150,000 for each infringed work.

“Wineries are small mom and pop companies and have local artists perform at their events,” Tara Good, vice president of WineAmerica, which serves as a mediator for its members, told Bloomberg BNA. “They have to have a music license to do that.”

But after WineAmerica started getting calls from its members about ASCAP and legal disputes, the association stepped in to negotiate a deal to create a simplified, less costly license for wineries.

The new licenses are priced according to how wineries use music—which is typically much less than restaurants or bars. More affordable licenses and the simpler guidelines make obtaining music licenses an easier process for wineries, which should lead to fewer legal conflicts.

Before the deal, licenses “for music in wineries were hundreds of dollars more expensive than they will be now,” Good said. “Now, wineries can get a license that will start from $200 per year.” WineAmerica members get a 10 percent discount.

Seasonal Option

ASCAP—along with competitor Broadcast Music Inc.—controls composition rights for about 90 percent of the music played for American consumers. ASCAP’s catalog includes about 10.5 million musical compositions.

This partnership is only with ASCAP. However, Good said that there is potential for collaborations with other licensing groups such as BMI and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC).

“We have been working with WineAmerica for over a year and it was natural for us to seek their input when updating our license for wineries,” an ASCAP spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “ASCAP is always looking to make the licensing process simple and easy for all concerned while providing fair compensation to songwriters and composers.”

The arrangement with the wineries also includes a seasonal option, which means they won’t be charged during the time they’re closed, in addition to getting lower yearly rates. Unlike bars and restaurants, many wineries aren’t open year-round, so buying a year-long license can be a burden when there are no customers or music being played.

Basignani, for one, is glad WineAmerica stepped in. “I think WineAmerica realized that the legal disputes were becoming a huge problem,” he said. “They saw the issue and came up with an accommodation for everyone, especially small wineries.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ayanna Alexander in Washington at aalexander@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at mwilczek@bna.com

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