Alabama restaurant sued for copyright infringement of 9 classic songs

CULLMAN, Ala. — A music publishing company is smoking mad at an Alabama barbecue restaurant, claiming that the eatery has violated copyrights for nine songs that were played nearly three years ago.

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The lawsuit, filed by BMI in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on June 25, claims that Moe’s BBQ in Cullman has committed “willful copyright infringement” with the classic songs, allowing “unauthorized public performance of musical compositions from the BMI repertoire.”

The songs included hits by Elton John, Toby Keith, Bill Withers and Three Dog Night.

All nine of the songs were performed on Oct. 10, 2019, according to court documents.

According to the lawsuit, the songs involved are “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “American Pie,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Inside Out,” “Never Been to Spain,” “Broken Wing,” “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue,” “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” and “Gunpowder and Lead.”

It is the second action filed by BMI against Moe’s, reported.

A similar lawsuit was filed in the same federal court on Feb. 11, 2020, but it was dismissed the following month at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Documents at the time stated that there was an option for BMI to file at a later day, the news organization reported.

BMI claims that since August 2018, its representatives have tried to contact Tyler Schuman and Justin Gilley, the barbecue franchise’s proprietors, more than 70 times by phone, mail, and e-mail, WIAT-TV reported.

BMI, which holds licensing rights to more than 18.7 million songs, said it wanted to contact Schuman and Gilley “in an effort to educate defendants as to their obligations under the Copyright Act,” according to court documents.

“We want music to benefit everyone, which is why we spend so much time educating businesses about the value that music brings to their establishment, the requirements of copyright law, and the importance of maintaining a music license,” the BMI representative told WIAT in an e-mail. “Most establishments recognize this and choose to feature music because they understand the value it adds to their business and the ambiance it creates for their customers.”

Businesses who wish to play music in the “BMI repertoire” can go to the company’s website to find out more about licensing. Costs can run as low as $378 annually but can increase into the thousands depending on the type of business, the frequency of the music played and the number of people at the location, WIAT reported.

Attempts by and WIAT to reach the owners of the restaurant for comment have not been successful.