Someone fills up a growler of beer that reads "Gritty's"
A music licensing giant has sued Gritty McDuff's in Portland's Old Port, one of Maine's first craft brew pubs, alleging copyright infringement. Credit: Pat Wellenbach / AP

A music licensing giant has sued one of Maine’s first craft brew pubs in federal court alleging that it has violated copyright laws by failing to pay licensing fees for music performed there.

Broadcast Music Inc. and five of the songwriters it represents sued Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub, located at 396 Fore St. in Portland’s Old Port, and owners Richard A. Pfeffer and J. Edward Stebbins Jr. on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Broadcast Music Inc. and the artists are seeking an injunction to stop Gritty’s from infringing on copyrighted materials along with unspecified damages and attorney fees.

The licensing firm has been granted the right to license public performance rights for approximately 15 million copyrighted musical compositions, according to the complaint.

Gritty’s was founded in 1988 and was one of Maine’s first craft brew pubs.

Stebbins said Wednesday that he had not received a copy of the lawsuit but that the business has regularly paid music licensing fees for the more than 30 years it’s been in business.

The lawsuit does not include Gritty’s other locations in Freeport and Auburn.

The complaint alleges that Gritty’s willfully infringed on copyrighted material seven times during public performances at the bar on May 18 and 19, 2019.

Broadcast Music Inc. has reached out to Gritty’s and its owners more than 65 times by phone, mail and email since August 2018, the lawsuit says. Those communications have included “cease and desist” notices, but the infringement continued, the complaint said.

Songwriters who copyright their work hire licensing companies such as Broadcast Music to deal with artists who perform their material and the locations where their work is performed, including brew pubs, bars and other venues, according to the U.S. Copyright Office. Venues where the copyrighted materials are performed are legally required to obtain licenses for the performances of that material.

The penalties for copyright infringement include an actual amount of damages and profits and a fine of between $200 and $150,000 for each work infringed upon.

Broadcast Music only takes legal action as a last resort, spokesperson Jodie Thomas said.

“Under federal copyright law, when copyrighted music is performed in any establishment, regardless of whether it’s performed by a live band, recorded, DJ, karaoke, or a jukebox, the business owner must obtain permission from the copyright owner,” Thomas said. “In most cases, that permission comes in the form of a music license, saving business owners the time and expense of contacting each copyright holder individually.”

A license from the company would give Gritty’s “clearance” to present any of the work in its catalog, she said.