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Chicago Bars Sued For Playing Madonna, Other Top Hits Without License

By Alisa Hauser | May 29, 2015 5:53am | Updated on May 29, 2015 7:19am
 Fatpour Tap Woks at 2005 W. Division St.
Fatpour Tap Woks at 2005 W. Division St.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

CHICAGO — Playing Madonna's "Into the Groove," among other songs, has gotten a Wicker Park bar into hot water with a group representing many of the nation's top songwriters, according to a federal copyright infringement lawsuit seeking up to $150,000 in damages.

Bars and restaurants that play music can do so legally by buying a license from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which represents more than 530,000 members who have created a repertory of 10 million original copyrighted works. 

Vincent Candilora, vice president of licensing for ASCAP, said the lawsuits filed Wednesday against Fatpour, 2005 W. Division St. in Wicker Park and Kirkwood Bar, 2934 N. Sheffield Ave. in Lakeview for not buying licenses, were "an absolute last resort."

"We don't like to sue establishments. Before we file a suit like this, we try many times to educate them on the law. There are some that choose not to adhere," Candilora said.

Alisa Hauser breaks down the lawsuit details and the possible fines:

The two Chicago complaints were part of 5 other similar cases across the country filed by ASCAP Wednesday. The group, founded in 1914, has either reached favorable settlements or won almost all of its cases, Candilora said.

"We have an obligation ... to ensure businesses are licensed to play their songs," he said, which is important not just to the songwriters "but to the hundreds of thousands of others that are paying the fees."

He added that 88 percent of every dollar collected in license fees goes directly to the songwriters.

Chicago, with close to 5,000 ASCAP licenses, about one-quarter of those being chain accounts with multiple locations, is one of the most compliant cities in the county, Candilora said, adding that there are an additional 15,000 ASCAP licenses in Chicago for the use of background music in shops and offices.

"Chicago is a very big music city with a lot of good music, and good business owners," he said.

Erik Baylis, a partner with Big Onion Tavern Group, which owns Fatpour, Irish Oak, Derby, and Woodie's said that his group is "taking care of [the issue] right now." 

"We got classified as a different type of business. [ASCAP] mailed a bill to the wrong address," Baylis said.

According to Candilora, Fatpour was first contacted in January 2012 and since then, representatives from the association, which employs about 160 people, reached out "about 20 times," using mail, telephone calls and in-person visits.

"They have repeatedly declined to get a license," Candilora said.

Big Onion partner Arthur Holmer currently is embroiled in a series of additional lawsuits for his real estate dealings, including one FBI probe.

The suit against Fatpour seeks between $750-$30,000 each for 5 violations for playing the songs "Into the Groove," "Funky Cold Medina," "You Shook Me All Night Long," "Where It's At" and "Take Me Out."

Fatpour's ASCAP license would have cost about $2,800 per year, or $5.75 per day, Cantilora said.

Another ASCAP lawsuit filed against Kirkwood Tap, part of Four Corners Tavern Group, names partners Andrew Gloor and Matthew Matten, seeking up to $30,000 each for 3 violations, observed in September and October 2014, when songs "We Found Love," No One's Gonna Love You" and "Africa" were played without permission.

Candilora said Kirkwood Bar was contacted by ASCAP workers "about 35 times" over five years. Gloor and Matten did not return calls on Thursday.

Kirkwood's license would cost $1,100 a year, or $3.01 per day, Cantilora said.

A common misunderstanding is that many people think a songwriter is also the recording artist.

"Most of our membership are people whose names you'd never recognize.  You probably don't know who Toby Gad is, yet Toby Gad wrote some of the big hits for Beyonce. When Toby's bank account goes down, he does not have the opportunity to go on tour and sell tickets and T-shirts like Beyonce can,"  Candilora said.

Songwriter Paul Williams, whose best known works include The Carpenter's "Rainy Days and Mondays" and Three Dog Night's rendition of "An Old Fashioned Love Song," is the ASCAP's president and chairman. 

"We want every business that uses music to prosper, including bars and restaurants. After all, as songwriters and composers, we are small business owners, too, and music is more than an art form for us. It’s how we put food on the table and send our kids to school," Williams said.

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