CORRECTION: The original version of this story misquoted Jason Astephen. He should have been quoted as saying Draught Charlotte is not a music venue.
A popular uptown Charlotte bar is being sued by major music publishers that accuse the establishment of playing five hit songs without permission.
The publishers filed a copyright infringement complaint in U.S. District Court in Charlotte on Tuesday against Draught Charlotte on South Cedar Street. The lawsuit seeks up to $30,000 in damages per song, or $150,000 total, plus lawyer fees, against Jason Astephen and Cedar Street Investments LLC. Astephen oversees Cedar Street Investments, which owns and manages Draught, according to the lawsuit.
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The publishers belong to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Each publisher grants ASCAP a right to license the performing rights for that member’s copyrighted musical compositions, according to the lawsuit.
Since January 2015, the lawsuit contends, ASCAP representatives have made more than 70 attempts to offer Astephen and Cedar Street Investments an ASCAP license for Draught, but all offers were refused. So ASCAP warned Draught not to play songs by artists represented by the publishers, according to the lawsuit.
“We are not a music venue,” Astephen said.
He said Draught provides music on a licensed Spotify account and requested information about ASCAP’s song category and libraries.
Astephen also said he is no longer a partner in the business.
In announcing the lawsuits against Draught and 10 other establishments nationwide this week, ASCAP said in a statement that it “is standing up for songwriters whose creative work brings great value to all businesses that publicly perform their music.”
“Our goal is to have businesses comply with the law so that our members can be paid for use of their work, and the establishments sued today have decided not to compensate songwriters,” ASCAP’s Stephanie Ruyle said.
The annual cost of an ASCAP license depends on whether the music is live or recorded, the size of the establishment, the number of nights per week music is offered, whether admission is charged and several other factors, according to www.ascap.com.
Filing the lawsuit were WB Music Corp., the music publishing arm of Warner Bros.; Heavy Melon Music, the music publisher for the rock band Blind Melon; Universal Polygram International Publishing, which represents numerous major artists, from Adele and Justin Timberlake to Elton John and Billy Joel; songwriter Dianne Warren’s Real Songs; Purple Rabbit Music; and M.L.E. Music.
Last year, BMI, the nation’s largest music rights organization, filed similar lawsuits against Libretto’s Pizzeria in Ballantyne, Machu Picchu Peruvian Cuisine & Bar in Pineville and The Evening Muse venue in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood.
A Libretto’s manager told the Observer on Wednesday that a change in regional managers led to a missed payment to BMI. Libretto’s has since paid what it owed, he said. The case against Machu Picchu was dismissed within a month, court records show.
Joe Kuhlmann, owner of The Evening Muse, said a clerical mix-up when the venue changed LLC names likely led to the non-payment claim. “It was just a clerical error,” he said.
While he disputed that his venue was the one that made the error, rather than BMI, he decided to pay the $900 to avoid a lengthy court case, he said. He added that his small venue – capacity 120 – is on AutoDraft with most such business-related payments.
“I’ve been in business with The Evening Muse since 2001 and am very familiar with the professional rights,” he said.