Property Rights Organizations?

I sent this question a while ago straight to the head honcho. I’m still wondering about it so I wanna know if anybody has additional information about it:

Dear Cecil,

Long-time reader, first time writer. My question today is based on a concern I’ve been having about Performance Rights Organizations (PROs). I work at a small restaurant in upstate NY, which seats about 38 people, max. Lately we’ve been hounded by repeated phone calls from a representative from BMI (website listed below), a PRO which is apparently demanding that we pay them a fee of $300 a year for the freedom to play copyrighted CDs in our restaurant. We’ve been dodging payment for about six months now, but I can’t possibly imagine why we need to make a payment. Are they haunting our restaurant, sending their lackeys to take notes on which artists are being played on the stereo?

Some research I did on their website seems to indicate that BMI represents an enormous amount of recording artists. Some Wiki-ing came up with other PROs operating in this country, too.

My question is this: Has BMI or any other PRO ever successfully prosecuted a small establishment in order to get their payment? I mean, even if we did pay, what’s to stop another PRO representing a different slew of artists to demand their own payment?

A local restaurant in the area is having similar problems, only with a different PRO (ASCAP, in their case). Please help us, before we are forced to only stock music by local artists in an effort to cheaply entertain the few customers we have.

(Edit: not that there’s anything wrong with supporting local artists)


Leo F.
Upstate, NY
BMI’s website: