Tribute Bands Equal Identity Theft?

December 21st, 2014

copyright-lawAn article by Brent Giles Davis entitled “Identity Theft: Tribute Bands, Grand Rights, And Dramatico-Musical Performances” argues there may be legal precedence that has the potential to destroy the majority of tribute bands in America.

This article mentions several well know tributes such as Kiss Army, Space Oddity—David Brighton’s Tribute To David Bowie, Rumours—A Tribute To Fleetwood Mac, The B Street Band—A Tribute to the Boss, Dark Star Orchestra—A Tribute To The Grateful Dead and many more.

While the entire article is both interesting and disconcerting, the section all tribute bands must read is entitled “Grand Rights And Dramatico-Musical Performances.”

The words Did You Know in three dimensionsIn summary it says that tribute bands are considered dramatico-musical performances and are not protected by the Fair Use Defense, or by the venue licensing agreements of the three performing rights organizations (PROs)—ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. As a result, venue operators should require tribute bands to provide proof of necessary permission from the copyright holder before a tribute band can perform, or the venue may be subject to litigation.

…while it would take some litigation to initially establish that tribute bands are dramatico-musical performances, once that is established, the venue operators’ fear of infringement and resulting litigation should result in the venue operator ensuring that any tribute band it hires has received the necessary permission from the copyright holder.”

The document goes on to say, “… once the courts find tribute bands to be dramatico-musical performances, the system of grand rights clearances is already in place and can be easily applied. This should result in the venue operators and promoters ensuring that the proper grand rights clearances have been obtained since they are not going to want to be liable for any infringement that happens in their establishment. Enforcement would not require increased litigation, and artists would finally have control over the tribute band industry that created a multitude of harms, but never created any economic benefit for the original artists.”

It-Happened-to-MeWe all need to stay informed about this and here’s why. While this article is eight years old (it appeared in Volume 24 Issue 2 of the Cardozo Arts & Entreatment Law Journal in 2006), I experienced this scenario three years ago. A major venue would not book my U2 tribute UZoo until we provided proof of permission from the copyright holder. I personally contacted Universal Music Group. They said they could provide such permission, but it would take time. They also said that such permission was not necessary, because of PRO licensing agreements. We did not get that gig.

And in the last three months, two Journey tributes that I know personally have received cease and desist letters from Journey’s legal team requiring the removal of the name “Journey” from their band name as well as pulling down any videos of the tributes live performances, because a sync license had not been and will not be provided.

To learn more please download the entire article PDF. Also, please share this blog post with any tribute bands that you know. And if you have had similar experience share it with us in the comments section below.

Keep doing what you love … with passion. Your fans will be grateful for the experience!

Chris (The Edge of UZoo)

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  1. “Thieves and charlatans the lot of you. Nothing more than parrots making money of anothers art, you should all be prosicuted under crimes to art.” hee hee!! Hodgy, you’re so confused there’s no point in trying to explain it to you (since we can’t comprehend it for you), but since you might lead others astray with your drivel (grammar and spelling aside), I’ll have to post the truth over top of you. I know Chris. Personally. I’ve had lunch with him, he’s a friend, I’ve even done shows with him, so please understand that what I’m going to tell you isn’t really up for debate or discussion – Chris and UZoo perform the music of U2 because they *love* it. They’re not ‘parrots’ making money – if you had any clue about the music business (at least, the real, revenue-driven part of the music business that we in Nashville live with, day in and day out), you’d know that forming a tribute act is the *last* thing you want to do to make money. If you’d ever heard/seen UZoo, you would have skipped that portion of your little diatribe anyway – they’re easily the best tribute in the nation, and their show is phenomenal. Your generalization of ‘you all should be prosecuted (spelling repaired – you’re welcome) under crimes to art’ also seems a very broad generalization – have you seen every tribute act? As in ‘you all’? What of the tribute acts that perform the music of artists who no longer tour? Have passed away? Or, what of the acts who *do* have the permission of the artists to perform their material? In the end, Hodgy, your opinion is yours – that’s a fact – but when you bluster around as if it’s fact, posting in someone else’s thread about a subject you know next to nothing about but (for some reason) seem to feel very strongly, you simply look foolish. If you’d left the money comment out (and perhaps used a spell check), people might have taken your comment seriously. Thanks for making it easy for those of us who run tribute acts to refute.

    Sean Harrison
    Band Leader – ‘Little Queen – the Music of Heart’

  2. Hodgy

    Thieves and charlatans the lot of you. Nothing more than parrots making money of anothers art, you should all be prosicuted under crimes to art.

  3. Hi Chris

    Thank you for sending this to me and I apologize as it got lost somewhere in the files and just poped up

    That lawyer you mention was a fill in sax/keyboardist for our band in the mid90’s…you think he would have had the curtiosy to send me this article…..Lawyers
    best to everyone and hope we can do something in the future

    Will Forte/The b-street band

  4. Beyond cease and desist letters, the copyright holder can’t directly claim damages from the band itself. The BMI and ASCAP license of the venue places any responsibility on the venue. The legal team for Journey is well known for being litigious and overly embellishing of the extent of thier copyrights scope and limitations. The argument against the dramatico-musical classification would be simple to overcome. The tribute band would fall under the scope of a cover band. Which is protected performance. The argument that it damages the artist is without merit. As artist don’t directly recieve any revenue from licensing fees. Those funds go to the copyright holder. Which in most cases is BMI.



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