When it rains, it pours
By Kurt “Swingcat” Johnson
The second round of Karaoke Piracy lawsuits has hit Oregon State.
When the Karaoke & Entertainment Guide first covered this subject, the first round of lawsuits was being brought against 25 area KJs and venues around the state. The geographic area covered the Portland Metro area, Salem, Eugene and Springfield areas in the northern and central Willamette Valley. The latest District Court filings again include the Portland Metro area, and extend to Medford, Grants Pass, and a number of outlying areas in both the central and southern Willamette Valley, and the Rogue River Valley areas.
The new court docket lists 33 separate venues. Combined, the two lawsuits have named 58 separate entities accused of karaoke music piracy by the Sound Choice Karaoke label owned by SLEP-TONE Entertainment Corporation.
The new round of lawsuits correspond to a recent visit by Sound Choice owner, Kurt Slep, who visited both Salem and Portland, Oregon and held meetings with local KJs, bar owners, and interested individuals about Sound Choice’s karaoke piracy lawsuit nationwide campaign.
Karaoke piracy takes many forms, including illegally copied karaoke songs on computers, laptops and hard drives (media shifting). In addition, there are illegally copied CD+G discs, counterfeited discs, and illegally uploaded karaoke tracks to online sources such as YouTube and websites selling karaoke tracks for illegal download. This gives pirate KJs and venues an unfair advantage because they don’t legally purchase the music in enormous assortments loaded on illegally-produced and sold hard drives.
Sound Choice’s strategy to date has been to send investigators around to the venues and take photos of the Sound Choice Logo on the video screens, photos of the songbooks, along with all other forms of evidence from public, and other sources, so that by the time they are listed on a court docket, the evidence is overwhelming. Penalties asked of the court are stiff and include fines per song, seizure and destruction of both software, media and equipment, payment of punitive damages, along with court and attorney fees. Some of the awards have been substantial, and a number of karaoke venues have either replaced pirate KJs, or dropped karaoke entirely.
In addition, numerous KJs have sold all their equipment and quit the business entirely. In most cases, KJs and venues will never know that an investigator has visited them and gathered all the evidence necessary to bring suit.
Sound Choice, however, would prefer not going to court and offers the venues and KJs an opportunity to respond and settle with several progams geared toward each situation. They also offer their Safe Harbor program for those venues that desire to be proactive. In this case, the venue/KJ may agree to a voluntary audit of their system to ensure that for each listing of Sound Choice songs, they do in fact own an original copy of that disc. Once this is done, they are provided a licensing audit certificate, which provides full permission to use those discs/songs listed in the audit. For those that refuse or ignore the lawsuits, there are other legal penalties that can come into play, such as suspension of liquor licenses, and pulling of both lottery machines and licence.
I had the opportunity to accompany Slep to a few actual intvestigations in the Portland area. Needless to say, the investigator was efficient, quiet and low-key, the venues never even knew we were there. While visiting these locations, they quickly gathered all the photos and other evidence they needed.
This is but the second round of lawsuits. Sound Choice has gathered enough investigations for at least three, maybe four rounds of lawsuits. Bear in mind that Sound Choice has been working closely with other karaoke manufacturers, and assisting them in their efforts at bringing about lawsuits. Sound Choice and the other karaoke manufacturers have suffered substantial losses in sales. They’ve had to layoff large numbers of employees due to rampant piracy not only in Oregon, but nationwide. Current efforts are geared towards recouping previous losses and reducing karaoke piracy in the hope that in the future they will have recovered enough to enable them to start producing new brand new karaoke CD+G releases.