Music producer and publishing group BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) on Aug. 31 filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois alleging that Bretz Wildlife Lodge & Winery in Carlyle violated copyright laws by playing music from BMI's catalog without a license.
Proprietor Sandra Bretz is named as an individual defendant as well.
New York City-based BMI owns the rights to license approximately 10.5 million songs. Joining in the lawsuit are 13 other plaintiffs which own the copyrights to the musical compositions allegedly played the night of April 17 at an event staged at Bretz Wildlife Lodge & Winery.
Federal copyright law covers music performed in a commercial establishment regardless of whether it's played by a live band, DJ, karaoke or a jukebox. A permission, typically in the form of a music license, is required to do so legally, executive director of BMI corporate communications Jodie Thomas said.
"If that business doesn’t have a music license already in place, we try to work with those business owners to ensure that they are protected," she told the Record.
Some 130 people paid to attend the event at Bretz Wildlife Lodge & Winery on the evening in question, during which 11 songs from the BMI catalog were reproduced without a license, BMI and co-plaintiffs contend.
Unresponsive to BMI's repeated efforts to resolve the matter, Bretz's alleged copyright infringement has and is causing plaintiffs "great and incalculable damage," according to the lawsuit.
"It is important to understand that we only take legal action as a last resort and spend a lot of time, sometimes years, trying to educate businesses on why they need a music license," Thomas said. "In the case of Bretz Wildlife Lodge & Winery, BMI made multiple attempts to contact the owner since March 2015, including 32 calls, 60 letters and one visit."
The copyright infringement BMI has brought against Bretz is similar to others BMI has filed.
"We often find out that venues are performing copyrighted music because they advertise music or charge entrance fees for having music on-site. If that business doesn’t have a music license already in place, we try to work with those business owners to ensure that they are protected," she said.
The majority of music copyright infringement lawsuits BMI has filed are settled out of court, the spokeswoman added.
"We never want to see things escalate to a lawsuit, which is why we spend a lot of time trying to educate business owners about the importance of obtaining a music license," Thomas said. "BMI wants to work with businesses to ensure that everyone benefits from the music."
By way of compensation, BMI typically seeks to recover statutory damages and attorney's fees. That said, Thomas said "we´re always open to reaching an amicable resolution."