Broadcast Music Inc., one of the two largest licensing companies in the entertainment industry, has sued WYCB-AM (1340) for copyright infringement of eight gospel songs and is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the station from playing BMI songs.
BMI filed the suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court here, but yesterday Howard Sanders, WYCB general manager, said he had not yet been notified. However, Sanders did say WYCB, the first 24-hour gospel station in the country when it started in 1978, does not have a current contract with BMI.
"I didn't know those songs were being played," said Sanders. "When we came here in 1978 there weren't any gospel artists on their lists. I guess I have to join or don't play the music. I would like to clear this up as quickly as possible."
A BMI official said, however, that black gospel singers have always been in its catalogue. "We have been involved with black gospel since the early days," said Frances Preston, senior vice president. "We go back to 1940 with Thomas Dorsey."
Sanders said the last time he had any discussions with BMI was in October 1982.
"We talked about WYCB becoming a member and I wrote a letter which said 'unfortunately, WYCB and its program format only plays black gospel artists , all of which are hardly members of any publishers' organizations. I would hope it would not be necessary for us to spend money which we do not have to accommodate a service which we are not using.' "
According to BMI's attorney's files, the company sent WYCB a letter ordering the station to "cease and desist" playing BMI-registered music in July 1984. Sanders said yesterday he had no record of that correspondence.
BMI represents nearly 76,000 writers and publishers, and charges approximately 40,000 businesses -- from radio and television stations to hotels to skating rinks -- for public use of their music. The standard practice of having a contract with a licensing agent like BMI is followed by most local stations. WYCB pays a monthly fee to two other performing rights companies, American Society of Composers and Publishers and Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, Sanders said.
BMI is seeking a minimum $2,000 in damages from WYCB.
Sanders is the president of Howard Sanders Communications, which also owns WANT-AM in Richmond and WITH-AM in Baltimore, but they are not involved in the suit. Sanders said those stations have current agreements with BMI.