October 24, 2016
Reporter's Notebook

Russian Lady hit with music lawsuit

HBJ PHOTO | Matt Pilon
HBJ PHOTO | Matt Pilon
The Russian Lady faces a copyright infringement suit.

The music licensing industry has struck again, this time targeting a downtown Hartford bar for playing 10 songs for patrons, when it allegedly did not hold the rights to do so.

Broadcast Music International (BMI), one of several major licensing entities, filed suit against the The Russian Lady earlier this month, seeking unspecified damages for songs allegedly played (largely on March 18) at the Ann Uccello Street establishment.

The 10 songs listed in the federal lawsuit were all released in the 1990s. Among them are the Smashing Pumpkins' "1979," R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion," Oasis' "Wonderwall" and Bush's "Glycerine."

BMI represents the respective rights holders to the various tracks, from Billy Corgan to Noel Gallagher.

BMI's Hartford attorney, Michael J. Rye of Cantor Colburn, wrote in court filings that since June 2014, BMI has reached out to the bar and its owner, Jerry Fornarelli, more than 35 times by phone, mail and email "in an effort to educate defendants as to their obligations under the Copyright Act with respect to the necessity of purchasing a license for the public performance of musical compositions in the BMI Repertoire."

Some of those communications were cease-and-desists, according to the suit.

Fornarelli and The Russian Lady had not yet entered a response to the complaint as of press time. Fornarelli did not return a message left at the bar seeking comment.

Asked about the suit, BMI spokeswoman Jodie Thomas said BMI sends persistent communications to establishments because some are unaware of how copyright laws affect the playing of music in a commercial setting.

"That is why we spend so much time trying to educate business owners about the value that music brings to their establishment, the requirements of copyright law, and the importance of maintaining a music license," Thomas said.

Since 2012, BMI has sued at least nine other Connecticut businesses, according to court records. In four of those suits, judgements against the defendants, totaling $86,500, have been made public. The penalty per song has averaged just over $3,600.

Meanwhile, four suits have been withdrawn or settled, while one remains open, in addition to The Russian Lady complaint.

– Matt Pilon

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