Bar owner sued over karaoke music

PORT ANGELES, Wash. — The owner of the Dam Bar in Port Angeles is facing a federal lawsuit for copyright infringement following a night of karaoke last year. Now, Elda Brandt says she may be forced to pay thousands of dollars in fees or damages.

"I don't know which direction to go with this except that I want to keep the music going in this town," Brandt said.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) is suing Brandt for copyright infringement after the organization's private investigator attended the bar's karaoke night in April 2017. The lawsuit alleges that people sang four songs by artists who are members of ASCAP. Since Brandt did not pay for the license, she was not allowed to play the songs.

An annual license under ASCAP costs roughly $1,000. According to the lawsuit, ASCAP asked Brandt to get a license 15 times in the four years she's been the owner of the bar.

"ASCAP has made numerous attempts at the establishment to offer a license and educate the business owners about their obligations under federal copyright law," the national nonprofit says. "Despite these efforts, the owner repeatedly refused to take or honor a license."

Brandt admits she should have paid for the license. However, the owner explained she thought it was a scam.

"For four years I've been getting letters and phone calls and people calling you a thief," she says. "No honest, reputable business would do that so I thought they're not real." Brandt also spoke to other business owners about the license and she was told to "just ignore" it.

Brandt says ASCAP may be targeting her because in the past, the owner testified in favor of a bill that would require companies like ASCAP to be held to a higher standard and would require more scrutiny.

"Just because it's legal, they do this and they won't stop," she said.

Brandt says fighting the lawsuit would put her out of business so she feels the only option is to settle in court.

"I wish we could stop them, but we can't," she says. "It's almost like I give up."

Artists held a fundraiser for the Dam Bar last weekend and another will be Saturday, March 3.

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