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Tampa’s Club Skye profits from music but doesn’t pay for it, suit says

By Susan Taylor Martin
Club Skye, Tampa Bay's best known hip-hop club, is accused of playing music for years without paying for it. In this file photo, rapper Lil Wayne performs at Club Skye to a packed house. [LUIS SANTANA | Times, 2015]

TAMPA — Club Skye, Tampa Bay’s best known hip-hop club, is accused of playing music for years without paying for it.

In a suit filed this week in federal court in Tampa, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is alleging copyright infringement by the club at 1509 E. 8th Ave. in Ybor City.

"This has been going on for a number of years. It has never been licensed by ASCAP and in fact we’ve been repeatedly reaching out to them to offer a license that would allow them the right and ability to play our members’ music," Jackson Wagener, ASCAP’s vice president of business and legal affairs, said today. . "They’ve never done so and they continue to play music’’ without a license."

The club, which has hosted live performances by Lil Wayne, Nas and other top rappers, has not returned a call or text for comment.

ASCAP operates as a nonprofit membership association that represents more than 625,000 independent songwriters, composers and music publishers. It licenses the public performances of their songs, collecting licenses fees and distributing nearly 88 percent of those fees to its members.

"Many are essentially small business owners," Wagener said, "so they rely on royalties obtained from those performances to put food on the table, to pay their rent."

The suit does not say how much ASCAP wants from Club Skye but the organization typically asks for two or three times what the annual license fee would be, multiplied by the number of years of unlicensed use of music.

Based on its 350-person occupancy, occasional live performances and the fact it charges a cover, the club probably could have gotten an ASCAP license for around $2,600, or $13,000 over five years, Wagener said.

That means "we might be seeking something along the lines of $30,00 or $40,000," he said. "Courts routinely award (on that formula) and the rationale is that it can’t be less to avoid your obligation than to simply comply."

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The legal action against Club Skye is ASCAP’s first in at least six years against any Tampa Bay establishment, federal court records show. BMI, another major music-licensing organization, has sued more than 20 bay area bars, clubs and restaurants in recent years.

The unusual nature of the ASCAP suit "goes back to our point, which is that we make every effort over a course of years to get establishments like Club Skye to do the right thing," Wagener said. "We owe an obligation not just to our members but also other establishments that are licensed by ASCAP."

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate