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Congress has heard your objections to classroom license fees!

Testimony based upon the petitions you sent us objecting to unfair classroom license fees demanded by ASCAP and BMI was heard by the Sub-committee on Courts and Intellectual Property of the House Judiciary Committee on July 17 in Washington, D.C. Here's what happened.

A few months ago, in a New York Times article, we learned that the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in Washington, D.C., was an organization of small businesses and that they, like dance schools, had similar objections to the music licensing fee demanded by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). Our mutual objections were:

1. Music titles are not provided by ASCAP or BMI upon request so the licensee cannot determine which organization owns what music.

2. The fees for the license to use copyrighted music (for classroom use in our case) are not standardized, negotiated, and not fair.

3. Challenges to these fees in the form of lawsuits never reach local courts because arbitration, according to present law, is possible only in one, costly New York federal jurisdiction.

We also learned that local "representatives" of ASCAP and BMI harassed and intimidated NRA members as well as dance teachers. These same representatives admit that the license fees are for "administration" of their not-for-profit copyright organizations. What portion goes to the composer is determined by the administration.

We joined NRA at the subcommittee hearing.

Dena Moss, lawyer and teacher at the Joffrey School, wrote our testimony for a hearing request to subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble (R-NC), who expected July 17 to be "a spirited day." It was The request was accepted and Dance Magazine went to Washington. Picture the hearing room as you have seen it on television newscasts--the chairman sitting in the center of two rows of congressmen; photographers and sound men crawling around a long table, with microphones for those giving testimony.

The first panel that gave testimony consisted of two persons from government agencies, that was followed by a panel from the licensing groups which included two disgruntled songwriters, and a third panel made up of NRA's lawyer, a beverage retailer, and a dance teacher. The hearing of testimony and questions from congressmen lasted four hours.

Thelma Showman, owner of the Thelma Showman School of Dance in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, had only five minutes to read testimony on her own behalf, as well as the nation's 13,000 schools, and their 26 million students. She began:

"I am eighty-one years old and have been teaching for forty-five years. I am here today because the copyright law for classroom education is unfair to small businesses like mine."

She described a visit from an ASCAP representative who told her that the burden was on her to discover which of the many records she had in her studio were under ASCAP copyright and then threatened that the fine for using even one record without having paid the fee was $10,000. She paid whatever they asked. Shortly afterwards, she was visited by a BMI person who demanded double the amount and would not leave her home without a check in his hand.

"Our schools are small," she continued, "and space restrictions make it difficult for us to increase the number of pupils. Similarly, after-school hours cannot be extended. Yet license fees continue to rise without explanation or account ability."

She reenforced the fact that dance professionals strongly support payment for public performance use of copyrighted music and agreed that the royalties paid when purchasing records and CDs are built-in costs, but that any additional cost for classroom use (as all of you have indicated in your petitions), is unfair.


Bills H.R. 789 and Senate 28, if passed, could reform the law. Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin is House sponsor of H.R. 789. His aide, Brian Dean, told us: "Mr. Sensenbrenner feels that the current copyright laws serve the exclusive benefit of the copyright holders and that copyright users should be afforded better treatment. It was the tactics directed at small businesses that alerted Sensenbrenner to the problem. These tactics are coercive in nature, and every business that uses music, copyrighted or not, is going to be subjected to their heavy-handed tactics until the law is changed. The existing law is enforced arbitrarily and capriciously."

The bills require "crystal-clear" fee standards; an outline of exemptions; the creation of a viable forum for resolving licensing fee disputes through binding local arbitration; a list of titles from the licensing organizations published as written directories of their repertoires every six months with updated computer on-line access; a restriction on landlords and convention owners from liability because a tenant or exhibitor renting space plays music; and an obligation imposed upon the Department of Justice to report annually to Congress regarding their oversight of the music licensing system.

"I hope," said Dean, "that upon passage of our bill that the message would be sent to music licensing societies that it is their responsibility to treat all businesses, including dance studios, in a predictable and fair manner. We are seeking information right now to determine exactly how much composers are receiving as their portion of collected fees. However, our bill does not address that issue but concerns the music users who have been treated poorly by these groups."

Dean was optimistic that when the current session of Congress expires in late 1998, the Fairness in Music Licensing that embodies Sensenbrenner's legislation will be passed.


The pressure must be kept up on your congressional representatives. And we need your petitions here at Dance Magazine.

Consult your local directory for the names of your congressmen and senators. Send a postcard, letter, or better, visit him or her and ask for support of Senate 28.


As a teacher with a small business in (city, state) instructing students in dance, I ask you to support Senate 28 and exempt dance schools from the requirement of a license for classroom use of copyrighted music by amending Section 110 (7) of title 17, U.S. Code (11) to include dance education classes as a performance of an instructional nature.

While I support payment for copyrighted music for public performance and the royalty fee at purchase, an additional fee for use of this music as accompaniment to dance instruction is unjust.

Sincerely yours, (Name)
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Title Annotation:fees required by American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers and Broadcast Music Inc.
Author:Horosko, Marian
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Oct 1, 1997
Previous Article:Getting it right.
Next Article:American Ballet Theatre, Metropolitan Opera House, May 12-July 5, 1997.

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