A national representative of active songwriters and musicians has filed a lawsuit against Northampton-based Iron Horse Entertainment Group, accusing the company’s Calvin Theater of being obligated to pay royalties to artists whose songs were performed at the venue. claimed.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Springfield, sees Iron Horse owner Eric Suhar and his company seize the intellectual property rights of songwriters often performed by the band at venues in Northampton. Said it was infringing.
Plaintiffs are members of the American Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), a national non-profit organization that licenses the music of more than 875,000 songwriters and other musicians. Venues such as the Calvin Theater hold his ASCAP license, allowing him to take music from a pool of over 11.5 million copyrighted songs. Next, the venue must pay a fee to her ASCAP for each performance so that the association can distribute royalty payments to the artist.
Calvin Theater’s ASCAP license was revoked in April after years of nonpayment, said Jackson Wagener, ASCAP’s senior vice president of business and legal affairs.
Since then, Calvin has continued to host performers, many of them tribute bands, who play music owned by ASCAP members, he said. Theaters must report performances, including information about venue capacity and ticket sales, to ASCAP to determine what should be paid to artists. Wagener said the fee will be a “few fractions” of the venue’s revenue.
In a statement, Suher representatives said the outstanding payments and reports amounted to “oversights” and were not intentionally omitted. Suher has apologized for the misunderstanding and will pay “as soon as possible,” said a representative.
In response, ASCAP spokesperson Cathy Halgas Nevins said Ascap looked forward to speaking with Suher and “exploring the possibility of an early resolution.”
According to legal documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Springfield, ASCAP sent notices to Suher and his company in February and March requiring Suher and his company to report performance and pay related fees. He warned that his license would be revoked if he continued to neglect it. The company did not respond and ASCAP revoked his license on April 29, Wagener said.
On July 15th, ASCAP sent an investigator to the Calvin Theater. There, his band played a tribute song to his ASCAP rock group Chicago.
During the performance, investigators flagged half a dozen songs for which Iron Horse owed payments, the lawsuit said. Among them were the popular songs “If You Leave Me Now”, “Beginnings” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”. Calvin Theater is infringing on the copyrights of members of Chicago because it does not have a license to perform ASCAP artists’ music, ASCAP said.
The lawsuit seeks “statutory damages,” which under federal law could mean a payment of up to $30,000 per violation. Wagener said he hopes to reach an amicable settlement. The venue may actually be relicensed in the future.
“We’re not trying to put anyone out of business,” Wagner said. “We want all businesses using our music to succeed and our members to be properly compensated.”
Although the lawsuit only deals with songs played on the night ASCAP agents were at Calvin, Wagener said the lawsuit covers about 900,000 artists whose music his organization has licensed. said it was filed on behalf of In parallel with the Suher lawsuit, ASCAP was also suing music venues, bars and restaurants in Danvers, Massachusetts. New Haven, Connecticut. Chicago and several other cities across the country.
ASCAP said in a statement that it is standard practice in the live music industry to pay licensors so that they can distribute royalties to artists.
“Hundreds of thousands of blue-chip companies recognize the importance of paying music creators to use their music. We have the opportunity to get permission to use it legally,” ASCAP said, adding that bars and restaurants pay an average of less than $2 a day.
Many lesser musicians and artists, like Chicago’s Robert Lamb and James Pankow, rely on royalties to survive, the organization added.
Songwriter and composer Paul Williams, Chairman of the ASCAP Board of Directors, said in a statement:
The Iron Horse Group of Shear also owns Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall, Pearl Street Night Club, The Basement and Holyoke’s Mountain Park.
The company has a history of involvement in the legal system, including labor law complaints filed by employees in the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy.
A gathering of workers in 2019 claimed Suher had taken steps to avoid paying overtime, didn’t take sick leave, and was regularly late on the pay he insisted on being paid in person. Suher’s firm failed to provide “true and accurate records” when Healey’s office investigated, the attorney general’s office said.
Healey ultimately sued Iron Horse Entertainment Group for $100,000 in damages and penalties for violations. New England Public Media reported in June that Suhar could agree to a settlement with the state.
Beyond that instance, Suha was also fined by the state Environmental Protection Agency for fuel storage violations.
He has also often come under public criticism for the state of Iron Horse’s assets. In 2016, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz urged Suher to repair the marquee of Calvin his theater, which had been in disrepair for nearly a year (the “A” was missing, so the “C_LVIN” sign was was displayed). In 2017, singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton complained about the conditions at Iron Horse Music Hall, saying the temperature on stage was uncomfortably cold and the furniture in the dressing rooms was falling apart.