Bonfire restaurant

Jim Conrad, left, waits for a beer with two friends on Monday evening at the Bonfire in downtown Manchester.

MANCHESTER — A Manchester country music restaurant and bar is singing the “Working Man Blues” after paying thousands of dollars to settle a music copyright infringement lawsuit.

More than a dozen music companies, led by Broadcast Music Inc., joined a federal lawsuit to force Bonfire Restaurant and Country Bar/Torched Pizza at 950 Elm St. to either pay the licensing fees or pull the plug on the use of copyrighted music.

Pat Mills, general manager at Bonfire, told the Union Leader on Monday that he wrote a $5,000 check two weeks ago to end the lawsuit. “I believe it is settled,’’ he said.

Bonfire plays music via a jukebox and music videos through Control Play, which provides background music for restaurants and bars, Mills said. In response to an online inquiry, Control Play said it offers licensing at an additional cost.

In the lawsuit, filed on March 29 in U.S. District Court, BMI, which owns 14 million copyrighted musical compositions by 900,000 songwriters, composers and publishers, claims Bonfire has played “at least one song’’ owned by the music companies since it opened in 2017.

Attorney Todd A. Sullivan, who represents BMI, forwarded a request for comment to officials at BMI. Jodie Thomas of BMI said said the copyright laws are important. "Songwriters can be seen as small businesses, who earn their livelihood through music,'' she said.

BMI claims it had reached out more than 30 times by phone, mail and email in an “effort to educate’’ Bonfire NH LLC owner Tanner Herget and The Herget Group LLC about the Copyright Act.

“We weren’t ducking them,’’ Mills said. Bonfire has all the necessary permits from the city, “but we didn’t know about the other licenses.’’

The targeted tunes include songs such as: “Working Man Blues,’’ owned by Sony/ATV songs LLC; “Landslide,” owned by Stevie Nicks’ music company Welsh Witch Music; “Stand by Your Man,’’ owned by EMO Al Gallico Music Corp.. and “When Will I Be Loved,’’ owned by Sony/ATV Songs LLC.

BMI’s annual licensing rates range from $357 for a jukebox to a per person cost for live music. Most lawsuits are settled out of court.

Bonfire is one of a number of bars and restaurants across the country that have been targeted by BMI and other music agencies for copyright infringement.

The Union Leader reported in 2012 that Fody’s Great American Tavern in Nashua was sued for $150,000 by ASCAP because the restaurant had an acoustic guitarist playing a couple of cover songs that belonged to ASCAP. The establishment settled out of court for $4,000.

In 2017, Manhattan on Pearl, a former Nashua bar, was one of more than two dozen businesses in 17 states sued by ASCAP. That case also was settled for an undisclosed amount.

According to Westword, a Colorado-based publication, BMI sued Sand Creek Lounge, a 42-year-old bar in Aurora, Colo., in December 2018 for playing copyrighted music during its karaoke night. Ed’s Hurricane Lounge in Tulsa, Okla., was hit with a similar lawsuit in November 2018.

ASCAP was at the center of a music licensing decision issued in 1917 by the U.S. Supreme Court that required hotels and restaurants that offer music to compensate composers even if the venue doesn’t charge patrons to hear music.

Riverwalk Café, a live music venue in Nashua that offers, jazz, blues, bluegrass, world music, roots and folk, says it has been paying full licensing fees to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the last six or seven years, according to owner Steven Ruddock. 

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