Unjustified threat letters from SESAC

So, for the past several months I have been receiving letters from SESAC regarding music licensing.

For any of you who are not aware, I am one of the co-hosts of America’s Debate Radio, and online political call-in show. The show airs once per week on Wednesdays. During each show, we usually take two breaks that last about 10 minutes each. During these breaks, we play music.

Now, before we started broadcasting I personally contacted every single music licensing agency for pricing and usage information: ASCAP, SESAC, BMI, SoundExchange, the Harry Fox agency. I contacted everyone. Some took months to respond, some never responded.

According to many of the agencies, we would need two separate licenses in order to broadcast music from their respective catalogs: One for the podcast since the music contained within a podcast is downloadable, and a separate license for the streaming broadcast.

The general summary of each licensing agency that responded is that the licensing costs per year were well above our total annual operating budget for the radio program– $200– and even above our entire annual operating budget — about $2,000– for America’s Debate in its entirety. Obviously, we could not afford to use commercially licensed music, and needed an alternative.

That alternative came in two forms: Music licensed under the Creative Commons license, and music released by independent artists and used only with permission.

The Creative Commons music that we use on America’s Debate Radio — ALL of it– is from GarageBand.com. Garageband allows artists to release their music to the public under several different licenses, one of which is the Creative Commons license. That license allows us to play and distribute that music within our broadcasts provided proper attribution is given. So, Jaime and I spent two days hunting through GarageBand.com for music released under that license. We saved every song we found, and we reviewed it for airworthiness at a later date.

The music released by independent artists is really music from one guy, his old band, and another band from right here in Georgia. Dirk Lind, formerly of Baaba Seth and currently a staffer from America’s Debate, gave me permission to use music from his old band. Not only did he give me that permission, but he also gave me permission to use the new music he has composed and listed at his website. The Georgia band is The Robbie Ducey Band, a blues band from Georgia. Robbie Ducey himself gave me permission via email to use his music, provided proper attribution is made.

So, that is the music we play. Free music used under its license, or music that has been given to us by bands who are unsigned and not under contract with any of the major music licensing agencies.

Back to SESAC. For the past several months, SESAC has been sending me letters accompanied by payment envelopes. These letters don’t so much as state that I have used their music in violation of their license, but it is certainly implied. Here is the letter I received today:

SESAC Letter

As you can see, it is quite threatening in nature.

“The unauthorized performance of copyrighted music represents an infringement of copyright and is a violation of Federal Law.”

Yeah, no joke. That is why we don’t use any copyrighted music. That fact won’t change, no matter how many implications of infringement you assert.

“Despite several notices of your need to obtain permission to perform the copyrighted compositions of our affiliates, we have not heard from you nor have we received the signed license agreement that would authorize such performances.”

Right, I ignored most of the notices since we do not play music owned by SESAC, and therefore we are under no obligation to pay licensing fees for music that we have not used. I did respond to the most recent letter stating that we only use Creative Commons music, and asking that I be removed from their mailing list.

“Enclosed is additional information regarding SESAC and the requirements placed upon music users under the United States Copyright Act. It makes good business sense to obtain a SESAC blanket license and avoid infringing the copyrights of our affiliated music composers and publishers.”

There was no enclosure. Regardless, I know the law, and nowhere in the law does it place any requirements upon me to license music I have not used.

“If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 928-757-5326, by facsimile at 952-674-1910 or by email at music.ross@starband.net.”

I did contact him. The results will be my next blog post.

“Please complete, sign and return the SESAC Performance License together with your license fee payment. Upon receipt of the signed license agreement and payment, an executed copy of the document will be returned to you for your records.”

Again, we don’t need to license music we don’t use. Just as the federal government requires a license before, oh, say, opening up a strip mine, that does not mean I must obtain a license just because I own a shovel and that shovel could be used to illegally strip mine without a license. Yeah, I’m capable of broadcasting your music. That doesn’t mean I have broadcast it, nor does it mean I need a license to broadcast it as long as I– you guessed it– don’t broadcast it.

“Additional information about SESAC and our licensing service is available at www.sesac.com.”

Great, I have a website too.

As you can tell, this letter is meant to scare me into paying for licensing I do not need.

If I had used their music without a license, all they would need to do is send a certified cease and desist letter to our Registered Agent as is on file with the Georgia Secretary of State. The letter would come from an attorney and not a Music Licensing Consultant. And the letter would specifically list the materials upon which I have infringed and the date and time of the infringement.

This appears to be nothing more than a bullying tactic based on a poorly-researched hunch, and backed up by federal law that they have interpreted as having granted them the right to bully and harass legitimate and legally-operated organizations.

I called the number listed. I will post the summary of the conversation as my next blog post.


24 thoughts on “Unjustified threat letters from SESAC

  1. Yeah, but if we went with LoudCity, we would lose our embedded player and lose control of our streaming page.

    LoudCity’s license is only for streaming and not for downloading. That means I would have to go through and remove the commercialized music in post production– kind of a pain in the butt. We would still have use Creative Commons music on the lead-ins and lead-outs, as well as for the show introduction because those need to be included in the podcast.

    All that and it would only cost us $35.28/month– $423.36 per year– to use the music.

    We play an average of 5 songs per show. We do 52 shows per year. That means we play about 260 songs per year. Our cost per play with loudcity would be $1.63 per song. We average about 9 live listeners per show (hundreds of downloads on the podcast, but they wouldn’t get the commercial music). That means we would have to pay a little over 18 cents per song per actual listener tuned into the stream. And, assuming that people use the breaks as we do– to use the bathroom, get a drink, get a snack– our listener count probably cuts in half during the breaks even though the listeners tuned into the stream remains the same.

    Any way you add it up, we have paid zero for our music to this point. $423+ dollars for break music? I don’t think so. We’re a political talk show. Music is not our focus. It would be a waste of money for us.


  2. Well? We spoke on the pohone. Were’s your follow up? I see YOU published my contact info, while you protect your’s. Very interesting tactic.

  3. Hi Ross,

    Interesting that you can read my personal blog, Ross, yet you couldn’t read my radio website before sending harassing letters.

    Particularly, you missed the part that says:

    Credits page

    Musical Credits

    The majority of the music you hear on AD Radio was released by the musicians themselves and downloaded from GarageBand.com. Musicians and bands release their music at GarageBand.com, and GarageBand members rate and review the music. They have over 100,000 songs available for listening, and it is completely free.

    If you want to find a song that was played on AD Radio, you can do it by clicking the archive button on the left, and locating the show that contains the song. All of the songs played during the show are listed in the Bumper/Break music section of the show summary.
    AD Radio Promotional Music

    A majority of the AD Radio Promotional Music is provided by Dirk Lind. Dirk, formerly of the band Baaba Seth, is a wonderful talent. Thanks Dirk!

    You also missed these fourteen links where we list every song we’ve ever played!

    But you have the time and inclination to read my personal blog.

    Maybe you should consider doing you research before you send harassing letters to people with whom you have no business relationship.

    And Ross, there is no expectation of privacy for any piece of mail you send to me. Certainly you know that.

    I’ll post whenever I am ready. I guess you’ll just have to keep visiting back to read whatever it is that I end up posting.

    Have a great day!


  4. And by the way, Ross, you listed your URL wrong. It’s SESAC, not SECAC. Exactly how often are you right?

    Ross, if you want me to remove your information, just ask nicely. I know you’re just trying to do your job.

  5. Hey Mike

    Your saga about trying to get music licensing for your show is a good example of just how hard it is to navigate this whole process. You spent months tying to get it — what if we don’t have months to spend? What if we just want it for a small, one time thing? It seems like most people, when faced with such a hassle, will just pirate. The music companies are missing a big revenue stream — cheap, easy licenses.

    Your post reminds me of an article I read on Media 3.0. Shelly was writing about the hassle of trying to get a license. If you’re interested, you could check it out here:

    - Dave

  6. I just filed a complaint with the BBB about Sesac’s harassing “playbook” tactics. I would like to know how prevalent this problem is to see if class action suit will get the proper attention to this issue. As far as I am concerned, the stress and anguish caused by a couple of years of harassment is worth thousands of $.

    I own a cafe that host small NON COVER bands who play their own music. Not a single one is associated with any of the music agencies. SESAC told me that their basis for harassing me is that statistically since we have live music, someone is likely to be SESAC protected. I didn’t realize that bad statistical analysis formed the basis for harassment and formed the basis for SESAC’s desire to impersonate LLCs. I had a conversation with the “sales rep” called “account manager” who covers my area and the amount of lies and misinformation she had at her finger tips was astounding. She had no accurate records of how often we had been contacted, she had no accurate records of any previous conversions I had with other reps at SESAC. She claimed to have visited my website and discovered we play live music so I asked her how many of the artists that have played my venue are SESAC(since every one is listed there) and I could hear all hampster go flying off the wheel in her peabrain as she had no answer.

  7. Uhm, yeah. Count me in. We’ve been harassed on a monthly basis for oh, 13 months now. The letter you posted looks all too familiar.

    I too own a small cafe that hosts local musicians. These musicians play their own, original music but SESAC does not seem to understand this. The harassment continues. I’d love to see a follow-up to this blog post!

  8. We have a small 350 sq ft bar at the beach. Recently I received a similar email from SESAC. We paid it last year, but I just saw a new loop hole in their guidelines… according to our attorney, if your facility is less that 3500 sq ft, you are except. I sent this to the guy at SESAC: this is his reponse:

    Thanks for your e-mail and timely response.

    The Fairness in Music Act of 1998 exempts from licensing fees businesses that perform music only from radio, television, cable and satellite sources and do not transmit beyond their establishments and do not charge admission. Therefore, all restaurants, bars and grills containing less than 3,750 square feet and all non-food service and beverage establishments containing less than 2,000 square feet are exempt. Their agent says:

    This exemption does not apply to live music performed in your establishment or background music from sources other than radio, television, cable and satellite.

    I’d be glad to speak with your attorney if you’d like to give me his or her telephone number. Feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions. Otherwise, please complete, sign and return the license agreement that was sent with my letter.,

    Basically, it seems that they make up their own rules when they want to.

  9. I have been getting harassed by this Ross Wright character for some time, my bar has televisions in it that play sports, we are a small bar, and Mr. Wright tells me that I have to pay for a license even though I pay for a commercial account from directv. I told this clown to shove it up his a** and go ahead and try to sue me.

    What a joke. This guy is a waste of space.

    928-757-5326 Give him a call and tell him to f*** off!!!

  10. We are a small limited service hotel. We are being hounded my SESAC to license our small bar that has two small TVs. I think its a scam and I am doing as much research on it that I can!

  11. All you need to do is send them a letter asking to be removed from their internal list and let them know that you have removed any SESAC artists from your playlists. We had them hounding our hip hop club for years and they final went silent after sending this notice.


  12. My mother in law owns a small restaurant and bar and pays 2 other companies which I will not name and as of recently Sesac has started sending her harassing letters saying she owes them money and needs to obtain a license with them. Most recently they stared calling her at her business. My brother in law talked to someone with Sesac who told him that she was 30 years behind in payments and that they would settle with her for 3000 dollars. My brother in law then said we have never heard of Sesac let alone ever tried to obtain a license with them how could we be 30 years behind in payments. Sesac replied with you play our music you need our license. My brother in law then asked if your story is true why did it take 30 years for to demand your money and why they had not been sued or turned into collections. Sesac replied with the employee who had your file recently passed away and it landed on someone else’s desk and that they did not this employee had not been doing his job for 30 years. The phone call ended with my brother in Law asking them to send more info. Sesac did sent some Papers and a DVD. It sounds like a great scam any legitimate business would not say we didn’t know our employee wasn’t doing his job for 30 years. As to fate of they are still calling and sending harassing letters. My brother in law told them where to go the last time they called.

  13. We recently purchased a 9-hole golf course and have a tv in the clubhouse. We have been receiving letters and phone calls from SESAC that are becoming more stringent as time goes by. We have chosen to ignore the correspondence.

  14. we own a small bar that has local bands on sat. night. we have a license with another company to play music. i contacted them about sesac out of the blue sending threatening letters. my company said they are mainly gospel and religious music with some neil diamond and others thrown in. we defenitley don’t play that at the bar. i think it is a shame that everybody has their hand out for anything they can get. it’s no wonder that small businesses have trouble making it in todays world. i too will keep ignoring them.

  15. From reading the copyright laws it appears the artist that are actually performing the cover songs for financial gain are required to compensate the original composer. The venue for live music should not be held responsible.

  16. I work in a bar/cafe in a very small town of 300 people. SESAC is also trying to bully us into a license that we do not need. The same SESAC representative keeps calling our establishment around the noon-hour. Those of you other cafe owners know that you do not tie up the phone over noon! He is rude and barely speaks English. This is ridiculous!

  17. This topic can often cause issues for businesses if they do not have a full understanding of the legal implications of playing music in their business. Here is a a free guide that has simplified the subject and answers common questions about licensing music played in business settings: http://bit.ly/1mQ6LkM

  18. We are a small bar and restaurant that plays Sirius/XM for our guests. Our understanding is that when we pay the fees for Sirius/XM, we are covered for copyright infringement. We have been getting harassing calls from SESAC and threatening letters. I don’t see why I have to send a letter to them to say we have no usage that makes purchasing a license from them necessary? Why can’t them just note it in their files when I have told them over and over on the phone we DO NOT play any music that would be an issue. As a small business, I have more important things to do with my time, I should not be held hostage by any company, legitimate or not, calling to harass us.

  19. I can’t believe this is still going on so many years later. I just received a call from Mr. Wright today. He was rude, threatening, bullying, and as disrespectful as someone could be. He would not let me ask questions or let me finish sentences. I eventually needed to raise my voice to let him know we were now going to converse like adults and go back and forth in the nature of a mature conversation.

    I host a very small original-only music event in a very small town in WV. The event is through a non-profit art gallery and artists are paid on tips. I’m not compensated for the work I do, and the art gallery maybe makes $10 a night, once a month, on soda and potato chips sales.

    He didn’t like admitting it, but did say this was only a fee if cover songs would be played. But, he wouldn’t let me call it a no-cover event. He wouldn’t even let me finish the sentence and speak louder than me saying there is “no such thing as cover-free music.” “You have two choices, pay the fee or shut the event down!”

    I have an email drafted to all of the senior people in the company asking questions he would not answer and complaining about Mr. Wright’s bullying tactics but, after reading this thread, I’m not so sure that would have any effect.

    If anyone has any suggestions how to deal with this, I’m happy to listen. I think at this point, I will just mail a letter in response as suggested by Brian.


  20. I have a small coffee shop. There are a few guys whom asked if they could come to our shop and play for practice. I said sure. There was no exchange of money but I did give them free coffee. We posted on FaceBook that we had a live band in the shop and sesac has not stopped hounding me since.
    The lady that calls is rude and forceful. I tell her to send all the letters they are willing to spend the postage on, and I will continue to throw them away. When I hang up on her, she calls right back and tells me how unfriendly I am, which I respond, “then stop calling me” I always end my conversation with, “then sue me. I have responded in writing and informed them when the state wants taxes the state calls, city permits, the city calls and so on. I refuse to pay up to a private company. If I am violating a federal regulation, then let the federal regulators contact me….

  21. And the saga continues….SESAC has changed none of its tactics over the years. What do we have to do to reign in these guys? We have been receiving increasingly harassing mailings, phone calls, and even a few emails. The emails have been the least threatening of all attempts of communication, so I have responded three times now. Most recently, I asked them to remove us from their phone and mailing lists. Will this actually work? We rarely have bands and when we do, it is all original music. Also we qualify for the homestyle exemption when it comes to playing the radio, etc. I have informed them of this repeatedly. They come back with the same arguments everyone else has heard (what if someone requests a song, how do you know for sure, what if it was written by a past band member). I’m sure there are some people who don’t have a clue, but we screen our musicians and make our wishes very clear. The groups never have a problem with it. Really…we have to take some legislative action so that they cannot harass small businesses like this. I’d love to play a greater swath of music, but when you take the expense times 3 pro groups, who can do that when you are running a small business?

  22. Here we go again. I am a musician and club owner. In dealing with SESAC:
    (1) I have asked for a list of people represented by SESAC . I was informed this list could be purchased for $700.00.
    (2) I have mailed them a list of all cover songs played in my bar over the course of a month. I asked them to send me a bill for the copyrighted songs for the performers that they represent.
    The response was a blanket bill for the yearly fee.
    (3) One of my friends who is represented by SESAC has had his copyrighted
    material played in numerous venues that have paid the blanket license fee and has not been paid one dime. Why.? Once you pay the blanket fee SESAC does not ask for details. So how can they say they represent an artist when they have no idea whose music is being played. Everytime I play a Bob Dylan song on stage at a SESAC licensed venue you think SESAC knows it and gives Bob his cut. Absolutely not. There is no reporting process to get him paid. So yes SESAC tell your lies somewhere else and start paying the performers for their music . No matter how big or small these people need to be compensated .

  23. I wander if we can get all these small clubs and coffee shops that have paid and artist that hasn’t recieved money and for horasment to do a class action lawsuit. Each company should give list of artist and songs attached to their letters so we are aware who not to play. If everyone chips in and hires a great attorney. We shouldnt have to pay a year when there is maybe a few occasions a year we have copy right music.

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