Music company representing Jimmy Buffett, Van Morrison sues Denham Springs restaurant _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- Jimmy Buffett joins Allen Toussaint on the Acura Stage on the second Saturday of Jazz Fest 2014 in New Orleans, La. Saturday, May 3, 2014.

Jimmy Buffett, Van Morrison and Bret Michaels are featured artists in a lawsuit filed against a Mexican restaurant in Denham Springs.

Broadcast Music Inc. earlier this month sued Papi’s Fajita Factory on South Range Avenue for copyright infringement. In a civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge on Dec. 8, BMI and various musical copyright holders accused the restaurant of playing such songs as “Margaritaville,” “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” without proper licensing.

BMI represents songwriters, composers and music publishers and licenses the public performance rights to their copyrighted works. The organization believes the 10 songs listed in the suit were played in live performances and during karaoke, spokeswoman Leah Lupo wrote in an email.

Even if a band plays covers of copyrighted songs, it falls to the venue to make sure the business is licensed, according to the BMI website.

“This responsibility cannot be passed on to anyone else even if the musicians hired are independent contractors,” the site states.

Licensing fees are calculated using a number of factors, including the maximum occupancy of the venue, whether the site charges a cover and if music is played by a band, DJ, karaoke machine or jukebox. A venue that features bands on Friday and Saturday nights, hosts weekly karaoke and plays recorded music at other times would be required to pay an annual flat rate based on occupancy limits, which works out to $10.90 per occupant or $12.70 if patrons are allowed to dance.

BMI generated $977 million in revenue in fiscal year 2014, of which $840 million went to songwriters, composers and music publishers, according to a September news release.

Lupo said BMI contacted Papi’s in April 2011 to offer a license to play songs in the organization’s catalogue of about 8.5 million musical works. BMI representatives visited the restaurant in July of that year and sent a combined 57 letters. They also made 79 calls, but only one was returned, Lupo said.

“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,” Lupo wrote.

As of Wednesday, BMI was listed as a plaintiff in more than 130 lawsuits in 2014, according to federal court documents available online. But cases in Louisiana were rare, as the suit against Papi’s is only the second of the year in the state.

In August, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, of Louisiana’s Eastern District Court, ruled in favor of BMI and copyright owners who brought suit against a lounge in Thibodaux. The venue, Diamond Horseshoe, was ordered to pay $3,000 for each of seven counts of copyright infringement.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Papi’s are asking the court to bar the restaurant from infringing on BMI-licensed music and pay unspecified statutory damages plus court costs and attorney fees.

“When was the last time you walked into a quiet or silent bar? … Music is a part of that experience,” Lupo said.

“We’re advocating for business owners as well, it’s just a different kind of business owners, and some of the smallest as well,” she said of copyright holders.

When reached for comment by phone Wednesday afternoon, a woman at Papi’s said the restaurant would not discuss the case on the advice of an attorney.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.