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Calvin Theater in Northampton sued over music licensing

The Calvin Theatre at 19 King Street in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Ellery Berenger
The Calvin Theatre at 19 King Street in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP, issues licenses to venues, allowing the performance of music from their more than 875,000 clients. More than 16 million songs are covered. It then passes royalties along to songwriters when their material is played.

In a federal lawsuit filed this week in Springfield, the society alleges that the Calvin Theater let its license expire, but allowed music written by ASCAP members to be performed anyway. It claims this violated copyright laws.

Jackson Wagner is ASCAP's senior vice president of business and legal affairs. He said the lawsuit was the final alternative.

"We made dozens of attempts to resolve the matter through licensing rather than through litigation," Wagner said. "We reached out repeatedly to sort of say, 'you owe us fees under an old license, it's your obligation to pay those fees, otherwise, we'll terminate.'"

ASCAP alleges six songs by the group Chicago were performed in mid-July by a tribute band at the Calvin despite the venue not having a license. In court documents, the group is asking for between $75 and $30,000 per instance.

Wagner says not all of the songwriters ASCAP represents are famous performers, but many write songs for a living.

"For this sort of...professional songwriter group of musicians, the royalties they receive from ASCAP are absolutely crucial. They're not selling merchandise, they're not touring," Wagner said. "They really rely on these royalties to put food on the table, to put their kids through school, to pay the rent."

The Calvin Theater is run by Iron Horse Entertainment, whose owner is Eric Suher, who was also named in the suit. Suher did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment. An Iron Horse spokesperson told MassLive the situation was an oversight and that the fees will be paid as soon as possible.

Iron Horse operates several other music venues in the area. It's owner, Suher was fined $100,000 by the state attorney general's office last year. Attorney General Maura Healey's office had cited the company for not paying wages in a timely manner, not having a sick leave policy, denying the use of paid sick time to certain employees, and failing to furnish true and accurate records to investigators.

Suher appealed the fine and there were indications earlier this year the two sides were negotiating a settlement, but none has been made public.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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