BMI Bullies Another Local Coffee Shop Into Ending Live Music…

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Cafe International in San Francisco used to host open mic nights. According to Hoodline, the cafe has a strict rule that only original music can be played at their open mics.  That didn’t stop performing rights organizations from coming after them…

BMI allegedly threatened to sue the cafe after an open mic participant sang “Happy Birthday” to their friend.

The cafe’s owner, Zahra Saleh, says that SESAC has come after them too. She says the two PROs have been bugging them for 20 years, accusing them of copyright violations, threatening lawsuits, demanding money, and secretly recording performances.

Saleh also says that she tried playing her uncle’s music in the cafe, but BMI wanted her to pay royalties for it. Her uncle is a famous musician in the African state of Eritrea, but he says that BMI has never paid him any royalties.

Saleh says she is no longer going to have open mic nights, even though she doesn’t make any money off of the events. She says the event was intended “for young people to have fun, instead of being on the streets.”

Both BMI and SESAC did not respond to Hoodline’s request for comment.

This is far from an isolated incident, and is indicative of the way in which PROs conduct business. In October Ari Herstand reported that ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC pressured Missouri coffee shop Bauhaus Kaffee over charity concerts that benefit fallen police officers and firefighters.

The PROs have a funny way of fostering lucrative relationships with potential revenue sources…


Nina Ulloa covers breaking news, tech, and more. Follow her on Twitter: @nine_u

Photo by Peter Lee from Flickr used with the Creative Commons License

18 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    They are copyright trolls, if doing nothing wrong and entering direct agreements with the rights owners for original content, or signed waivers, then tell them to shove it…

    the way that industry bullies threatens and Intimidates people into giving them money for nothing, it should be illegal, oh wait…

    extortionist criminals, nothing else can be concluded…

      • Anonymous

        Total nonsense…

        Not at all, plain hard cold truth, which is why you all take such offense to it, no one seems able to handle the truth…

        Again, appreciate all my PRO and BMI/ASCAP as my affiliates have done for me, im not upset or bitter or jaded or jealous, none of that, but they are notorious for being bullies, maybe not so much socan, but bmi/ascap most definitely…

        Sure this story could be void of all the details, but that doesnt mean i cant say my piece as part of my ongoing campaign of justice and truth and of self defense of person and property, regardless how much i get constantly cyber bullied and attacked for it, so either stop treating me and others like this and stop being such arrogant trolls, and then perhaps people like myself wont see the need to let others know what goes on…

  2. Anonymous

    PROs and the major labels and the tribes and posses DO NOT OWN music, period, and they need to get that through their thick skulls and into their tiny little pea brains…

    I appreciate all they do, and creators need muscle, but its far passed being totalluy ridiculous, all to fatten majors and their celebrity employuee superstars pockets…

    I don’t think so…

    bars etc have gotten squeezed beyond control by everyone, no wonder they don’t care about supporting music and helping it grow from lower levels, not worth it for them anymore, better to pay a dj to spin pirated celebrity songs then cultivate growth and careers…

  3. Anonymous

    “BMI allegedly threatened to sue the cafe after an open mic participant sang “Happy Birthday””

    Um yes, that’s their job…

  4. Anonymous

    That must be Nina’s favorite coffee shop. Or maybe her friend owns it. Horrible one-sided and uneducated reporting…

    • Poplik

      “Uneducated?” That’s a bit harsh. Take your meds and settle down.

  5. Vail, CO

    “Saleh also says that she tried playing her uncle’s music in the cafe, but BMI wanted her to pay royalties for it. Her uncle is a famous musician in the African state of Eritrea, but he says that BMI has never paid him any royalties.”

    Of course none of that money is getting back to him, what a scam. Shame on you BMI

    • Chris H

      Have you seen the rates? Either ASCAP or BMI actually has a page with what the going rates are. Ah, 3 mins of googling later:

      $1 a day. Let’s say that’s x 3 (for all societies). Bout a grand a year. I understand crying poor and all, but that’s about on par with a business license etc.

      If the acts aren’t increasing foot traffic, bring in different acts.

  6. umbrage mcgee

    Shame on digitalmusicnews for writing this article, slanted the way it is. So the coffee shop refuses to pay their music performance license fee, and instead of supporting artists rights to be paid for public performance of their work, this site sides with a coffee shop who would rather cancel all music, than use it legitimately. Way to go website. Disgusting.


    The crux of the matter is this: the agents seeking payment are working on commission. Very often they do not know their own rule book. They seek the maximum annual fee, and they attempt to extract it via bullying. People cave out of fear.

    Learn that rule book, and slap them with it. Long ago in Austin TX the PRO’s demands would have shut down Armadillo World Headquarters, a venue that would eventually put the city on the international live music map. We learned the rules, and we stood our ground, and we took it to the next level(s), and in the end we arrived at a workable agreement. It helped that one of the core people was attorney Mike Tolleson. But the biggest deal was that rule book, because it locked them into a reality they had ignored

  8. GGG

    Of all the things we complain about PROs for, it’s actually a good thing they take their job this seriously sometimes. The more people learn they can get away without paying licenses, the less are going to do it, and the less money going to artists (eventually, after all the bullshit).

    MAYBE they went about it strongly, but I highly doubt they went straight from 0 to “I’ll SUE YOU!” without anything in between.

  9. Willis

    Bullies? It appears to me that BMI is doing their job in representing the content of the artists signed with them. What am I missing?

  10. Name2

    If you’re asking something 5,000 times, it’s not “nice”. It’s harassment.