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Issue Date: Vol. 48, No.1, January 2008, Posted On: 1/12/2008

Coin-Op Watches Public Play Of Home Viddies

Nick Montano

Looks Like iPod Nights; Mechanical License May Cover Performances

BALTIMORE — A leading music and games vendor on the East Coast reports seeing a growing number of locations and mobile DJs offering free play on home videogame consoles. Jason Rubin of A.J. Video Amusements (Baltimore) confirms that Xboxes and PlayStations are being connected to big-screen TVs in locations where patrons are playing popular music-based games as Activision’s Guitar Hero and Electronic Arts’ Rock Band.

“It's definitely cutting into coin-op revenues in those locations,” Rubin told VT.

After learning about the potentially harmful trend, the Amusement and Music Operators Association notified the performing rights organizations ASCAP, SESAC and BMI about the practice.

AMOA executive vice-president Jack Kelleher explained that the PROs might be interested in the development because the games in question include licensed versions of hit tunes from bands like The Rolling Stones and Guns ‘n Roses, among others. If they are advertised to build customer traffic, and if DJs are paid to publicly perform them or cause them to be performed, there could be an economic factor to the phenomenon that adds up to copyright infringement.

ALERT: Slash and Best Buy media specialist Kahlil Nelson sell the first Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock videogame to gamers at store in Los Angeles. The blockbuster Activision music game is finding broad appeal among nongamers through its guitar-shaped controller, while MTV’s Rock Band is heating up the music category by adding a microphone and drum kit.

However, a music licensing expert, speaking not for attribution, has informally advised the AMOA that if a location possesses a mechanical music license that covers such activities such as karaoke and DJ performance, then public use of music-based consumer videogames may also permitted, at least with respect to musical performance. It remains unclear, the source said, what possible infringements may be taking place with respect to the game manufacturers when their software is used in public venues.

Unlike the Jukebox License, which must be visibly displayed on a jukebox, the mechanical music device license that allows public performances is not required to be displayed by locations.

In 2005, AMOA retained legal counsel to assess “iPod Night” public performance issues in an attempt to argue and restrain unfair competition against jukeboxes. The Recording Industry Association of America declined to enforce the relevant copyrights.

In 2004, Apple’s successful iPod and other handheld digital music playback devices began demonstrating the inevitability of digital media, menacing the digital jukebox in some markets. Music operators, particularly in New York City, became concerned about bars and taverns that were allowing, and encouraging, customers to broadcast their personal playlists stored on their iPods over the locations’ sound systems, sometimes belonging to the operator. The legality of the movement, in which copyrighted music is publicly performed, still remains unclear.

Topic: Music and Games Features

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