Farmers market plows ahead despite music copyright issue

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer July 20, 2011 09:15 pm
ASCAP, an organization that defends copyrights on music nationwide, has sent notice to the La Grande Farmers Market: you play, you pay.

The local market, which has an annual budget of less than $10,000, uses local and regional musicians to entertain shoppers during sessions in Max Square Saturdays.

Many of the performers cover tunes written by other people. This year, ASCAP — the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers — told the market it must pay about $900 a season ($40 a Saturday) for the rights to songs performed.

There was no choice but to pony up an amount representing about 10 percent of the market’s overall budget, said Steve Feldman, a member of the market’s board.

“We were kind of up against it,” Feldman said. “When they sent us the letter, we were just getting ready to start for the season.”

Feldman said he works as a professional illustrator and understands that artists need to protect the rights to their material. As someone whose living depends on copyrighted work, he said he has no quarrel with ASCAP wanting payment.

What bothers him, he said, is the rate schedule ASCAP uses to determine the amount owed. He said the

La Grande market, a small community affair run by a non-profit organization, is being billed at the same rate as a business much larger.

“It’s one size fits all. They see the La Grande Farmers Market the same as the Portland Farmers Market, and obviously there’s a big difference,” Feldman said.

He said the La Grande market tried to get a better deal, but ASCAP wasn’t willing to negotiate.

“The representative I talked to said this comes straight from the top and there’s not much to be done about it,” he said.

Vincent Candilora, ASCAP’s senior vice president of marketing, said today that ASCAP’s mission is to protect the work not only of big-name performers, but also of people who are not so well known.

As an example, he noted that nearly everyone knows the song “The Gambler,” and associates it with singer Kenny Rogers.

Few people know that the tune was penned by Don Schlitz, or that Schlitz depends on ASCAP to represent his interests.

“Kenny Rogers can go play concerts and sell a lot of t-shirts, but who’s going to buy a T-shirt with Don Schlitz on the front?” Candilora said.

He said that the fees charged by ASCAP are built into a long-standing consent decree between ASCAP and the U.S. Department of Justice. The decree doesn’t allow much wiggle room.

“If there’s one farmers market operating, we have to use the same rate for other markets. The only difference would be the number of days the music is performed,” he said.

He added that in the consent decree, there are no special provisions for non-profits.

With ASCAP’s fee paid for this season, La Grande Farmers Market performances are going on as scheduled. Feldman said the board will explore options for 2012.

“We’re putting it out that we need more donations and more members, and also trying to find out how people feel. We’re asking whether the music is important to them.” he said.