Elda Brandt, owner of The Dam Bar on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles, pours a drink Monday. The bar is facing legal penalties for allegedly allowing copyrighted songs to be sung on karaoke night without a music industry license. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Elda Brandt, owner of The Dam Bar on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles, pours a drink Monday. The bar is facing legal penalties for allegedly allowing copyrighted songs to be sung on karaoke night without a music industry license. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Dam Bar owner looks to settle copyright infringement lawsuit with ASCAP

Fundraiser set Saturday at venue west of Port Angeles.

PORT ANGELES — Dam Bar owner Elda Brandt wants to settle her copyright infringement dispute with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, a nonprofit performance rights organization that is suing her in federal district court for playing unlicensed music.

Brandt said Monday she’s hiring a Seattle lawyer to represent her in the Feb. 13 federal district court complaint who has told her she must shell out about $4,000 in licensing fees to ASCAP; Broadcast Music Inc., a music rights organization; and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, or SEASAC, also a performance rights organization.

She said she hopes she can settle the ASCAP lawsuit by next week and that she needs to pay fees to the other organizations as well so she can play copyrighted music by artists they represent.

ASCAP is seeking $3,000 to $120,000 in damages and attorney’s fees from The Dam Bar after trying more than 15 times over 16 months to get Brandt to pay the licensing fee for playing four unlicensed songs, according to the complaint.

“He said there is no way to get out of paying them, that I have to pay them and it’s illegal not to,” Brandt said.

“We hope we won’t have to pay attorney fees.”

The complaint cites four songs that were sung by karaoke singers April 19, 2017, that were performed without ASCAP’s permission and documented by a private investigator at the venue, located on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles at the junction with state Highway 112.

To help Brandt, last weekend the Bad Dog Blues Society donated the $400 fee that Brandt would have paid the band and “passed the can” several times for donations, she said.

The Turner Brothers band is donating its $400 fee for a performance this Saturday for a “Keeping The Music Alive Benefit” fundraiser at 8 p.m. that has a $5 cover charge, and at which food will be provided.

The outpouring of support has been “ridiculously overwhelming,” Brandt said.

“It just warms my heart.”

ASCAP representatives said in an earlier interview that the fee Brandt would not pay was $912 annually, saying the vast majority of bars and entertainment venues pay the fee.

The fees are paid as royalties to artists.

A settlement with ASCAP would likely exceed the cost of a license, ASCAP lawyer Jackson Wagener said in an earlier interview, when he said the organization is open to a settlement.

Brandt, a former bartender at the business, said a large damage award would force her to close the bar.

ASCAP, which represents 650,000 songwriters, lyricists, composers and music publishers, filed complaints at the same time against The Dam Bar and 10 other establishments nationwide.

Brandt said she regrets not paying the license fee.

“Had I known they were a legitimate company and had it been explained to me, I probably would have gone ahead and gotten licensed,” she said.

She said she received letters in the mail with the ASCAP logo and phone calls from people identifying themselves as being from ASCAP that she reported to the police as scams.

“Had someone walked into my bar and and sat down with me and we had a meeting and they explained who there are and what they do, there’s a chance I would have paid the fee,” she said.

“They wanted $1,000 from me.

“That needs a face to face.

“Instead, they send ‘nastygrams,’ and they made phone calls, and I mean nasty phone calls, and I just hung up on them.

“Other bar owners said, ‘Ignore them, and they’ll go away, ignore them, and they’ll go away.’

“They’re not going away anymore.”

An ASCAP spokeswoman said Monday a representative who went to the bar in mid-October 2016 and tried to discuss the need for a license with the owner was asked to leave.

Wagener said ASCAP reviewed The Dam Bar licensing compliance after reading the venue’s advertisements for musical entertainment.

Brandt said she believes she was “targeted” after she testified in Olympia in 2015 in favor of a bill sponsored by then state Rep. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim — now a state senator — that required companies such as ASCAP to register with the state Secretary of State’s Office and pay fees.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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