The Enforcers

Unlicensed jukebox music may be the downfall of feisty Sassy's

"It doesn't benefit me in any way," Fitzgerald says of having to pay the annual fees.

Like many, she wonders where the money goes.

"In my mind, it seems Frank Sinatra probably got a lot, but not a lot of other people did," she says. "In other words, if you're huge and you're already rich, you get richer. But if you're not tracking at a real high level, you don't get anything."

In 1999, the last year for which statistics were available, ASCAP took in a total of $560 million. (Reimer declines to provide Houston-area revenues.) Of that, more than 85 percent was distributed to member songwriters and publishers based on the performance of their work, Reimer says.

ASCAP has been known to zealously pursue licensing fees. In 1996 the organization went after summer camps, including some run by the Girl Scouts, for using campfire favorites like "This Land Is Your Land." In the midst of a public relations nightmare, ASCAP returned money to the Girl Scouts.

Plilar does not expect a happy ending. ASCAP declines to discuss the litigation, but Plilar says the organization is seeking $10,500 in damages. He offered to pay more than $2,500 for the three years of annual fees he owes, but ASCAP balked. Reimer argues that ASCAP must seek damages above the fees to keep wayward club owners in line.

As the two sides try to iron out a settlement, Plilar worries that he will be forced out of business.

"If I have to pay $10,000," he rues, "I'll have to sell this bar."

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