GateHouse — A lawsuit aimed at a restaurant in Raleigh, N.C., may kill karaoke there once and for all, and that makes me think one thing and one thing only: What is the nature of this glorious, magical lawsuit, and how can we expand its power worldwide by the end of the week?
I’m generally against weighing down our already deluged legal system with frivolous lawsuits – frankly, I’m against much of the legal system, largely because of the way it keeps telling me I have to stop sending candy and flowers to the girl in the “Transformers” movie — but if doing so means that there will never, ever be an occasion wherein I walk into a bar and hear a paunchy assistant regional manager of something committing unspeakable acts of violence against Meat Loaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” for every one of the song’s 48 interminable minutes, then I say friends, let us bring the justice system to a crashing halt until this matter is resolved! (Note: Thanks to Alberto Gonzales, the first part of this request has already come true.)
Look, I understand that there are parts of the world that need karaoke. I’m just saying that those parts are generally single men with thin mustaches who wait all week to sing Neil Diamond songs in a rib joint on the likely chance that Clive Davis is coming in that night for a half-rack, and that part of the world has had its chance, and that part of the world is encroaching desperately on my part of the world, the one that wants to hear songs sung by people who do not sound as though they’re trying to pass a live squirrel through their colons. Readers, Americans, friends, people who’ve just picked up the paper because it was sitting next to them on the bus, I beseech you – and I don’t beseech often – karaoke is over. We had some laughs. Killed some time. But it is time to sweep it under the rug with other, similarly unpleasant cultural icons of our era, such as Lindsay Lohan, the “Fantastic Four” movies and, well, Alberto Gonzalez again, seriously, what the hell, dude.
Yet before we go any further, full disclosure compels me to report that I have karaoke experience – although in my defense, it only happened twice and I don’t recall either: My brother Dave and I have been known to rock “Jump Around” on the mic, and I don’t want to gloat here, but for a wafer-thin dweeb from Indiana, I have what the kids call “mad skills,” although I don’t know if they actually call it that, and said “mad skills” only make themselves apparent after three or 12 beers, so they might not be “mad” at all, but rather “something that makes people want to throw pool balls at your spine.” And no, it’s not easy to throw pool balls at the spine of someone who’s on stage; all I can say is that the ferocity of my Jumping Around caused a few accidental double-axels onstage.
Anyway, the lawsuit: Three music publishers last week filed suit against 26 restaurants in America, including a joint called Cody’s Chinese Bistro in Raleigh — I know whenever I’m looking for karaoke in a new town, the Chinese buffet is where I stop, right after the all-night Laundromat and the public library. The ASCAP group that did the suing manages the copyright use of more than 8.5 million songs in America, or almost half of Ryan Adams’ entire catalog.
But, you might be saying, it’s not like the restaurants were playing the actual songs, right? They can’t go after people for playing wordless karaoke tracks, can they? Ha! Boy, are you stupid!
“It really doesn’t matter how the songs are performed,” said Vincent Candilora, ASCAP senior vice president of licensing and apprentice to Darth Sidious, tangibly horrified that there may exist some Americans who didn’t believe the record industry was staffed exclusively by monocled, koala-bear-eating jerks. “Copyright infringement is copyright infringement.”
The deal is this: Restaurants and businesses have to pay a flat licensing fee to Associations representing musicians in order to play the music; because adult musicians would not be able to survive for a minute unless these glorious, princely and not at all corruption-plagued Associations were there to prevent nefarious Chinese restaurants from occasionally playing Kelly Clarkson songs. Without Associations to represent them, every musician on the planet would be dead within hours, and the world would be left dark and alone and without music, particularly music performed by Fergie and Aerosmith.
Aw, we should cut the record companies some slack; seven years ago they had an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the music downloading wave, but they panicked and sued grandmothers and 6-year-olds and now their business model is collapsing around them while everyone laughs, claps and — here’s my favorite part — continues downloading music. So you can’t blame them for being evil, in that comical, Mr. Burns sort of way. It’s all they have left to do for the three or four weeks until their business model dies. Then: shuffleboard.
But in this case, just this one case, I find myself aligned with the record industry, which makes me feel as though I’ve temporarily joined Slytherin but is for the greater good, and by “greater good” I mean “so that the environment is slightly less obnoxious on the one time a month I accidentally go into a bar.” What can I say? Law, like politics, makes strange bedfellows. Did I just say strange bedfellows? Dammit. I’m gonna have to pay royalties to someone for that.