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Battle over live music rights in Pensacola

PENSACOLA -  A battle over the right to play live music played out at a Pensacola restaurant this weekend. The owner of The East Hill Yard accused ASCAP, a performing-rights organization, of using "mob like" tactics to charge them a sizable licensing fee. It's a situation several other businesses say they've had to deal with.

He admits he's cooled off since then, but on Friday, Josh Flores, the owner of The Yard, made it clear he was not happy about having to pay ASCAP.

On The Yard's Facebook page, Flores wrote,"If you are aware of this organization's mob-like tactics against small businesses...Then you know I'm less than thrilled to pay up...They're basically a bunch of lawyers taking advantage of copyright laws to make a buck."

"The bills pile up and then there's just that one more," Flores said on Sunday.

Flores met with an ASCAP representative Friday night and decided to pay a fee for a year-long license, allowing performers at The Yard to play music created by artists ASCAP represents.

"They came out with a price and the price was lowered," Flores said, "But it still was a significant fee to take on."
   
Flores, who opened The Yard about a year ago, wouldn't say how much he paid. But Nick Zangari, the owner of New York Nick's, says he had to pay fees to ASCAP and two similar organizations when he hosted live bands about ten years ago.

"I was paying probably $2,000 a year," Zangari said.

ASCAP, which stands for American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers, helps collect money for the nearly half-million songwriters, composers and lyricists it represents. Their artists including many of the biggest names in the music business.
   
I reached out to the non-profit company and they haven't yet responded.

Justin Otto, a musician who's played at The East Hill Yard, says he appreciates ASCAP looking out for songwriters. But he also admits he plays a lot of songs by other artists during his gigs to fill time.

"If the venues have to keep paying high ASCAP fees," Otto said, "There's not gonna be any venues left because they're gonna stop having live music."

ASCAP currently provides licenses for more than 300-thousand businesses to play music created by ASCAP members.

-Joe Douglass