Papi’s Fajita Factory in Denham Springs is the target of a federal copyright infringement lawsuit by BMI, one of the country’s largest performing rights organizations, and 10 music producers. In a suit filed Monday in U.S. Middle District Court, BMI and its fellow plaintiffs allege 10 counts of copyright infringement against Papi’s, based on the restaurant’s “unauthorized public performance of music compositions licensed by BMI.”
Though a Mexican restaurant in Livingston Parish may seem like a random target for a federal copyright infringement suit, BMI and the country’s other major performing rights organization, ASCAP, frequently target bars and restaurants that haven’t paid a legally required fee that gives establishments a blanket license to play copyrighted music.
A BMI spokesperson says the organization first contacted Papi’s in April 2011 to offer the restaurant a BMI license.
“For an extended period of time, we made many attempts to reach them and to educate them on the value of the BMI license and their legal obligations under the Copyright Act,” says Leah Lupo, the BMI spokesperson. “Overall, we sent 57 letters and called the establishment on 79 occasions, receiving only one call back. BMI also visited the establishment in July of 2011.”
Papi’s co-owner Adrian Martinez says he does not believe the restaurant legally is obligated to pay BMI. He says local bands regularly perform at the restaurant, playing a mix of original compositions and cover songs, and that he was under the impression the bands are responsible to pay licensing fees.
“They want to bring me to court, we can go to court,” he says. “But I don’t see why I need to pay money to them when I’m not the one who plays their music.”
The suit brings to light an issue about which many bars and restaurants—particularly new establishments—are unaware. Entertainment attorneys say suits to enforce licensing requirements are increasingly common, and that any business that plays music—whether it is over speakers or in the form of live entertainment by cover bands—without a license is a potential target.
Martinez says he is not worried about the suit, however.
“I don’t need the music,” he says. “But if they’re going to sue me, I’m going to sue them back.” —Stephanie Riegel