Far West's new location is in South Dallas.EXPAND
Far West's new location is in South Dallas.

Far West Nightclub Fails to Pay Songwriters Royalties, Federal Lawsuit Claims

Far West nightclub, at the corner of South Buckner Boulevard and Elam Road in Dallas, has had its share of problems over the years. It's one of the most popular Tejano nightclubs in Dallas and has more than 180,000 followers on Facebook. When it was located near the Lakewood Hills neighborhood, some called it a rowdy place known for "weekly pandemonium." 

The mega-nightclub faced opposition from neighbors in Lakewood Hills who contacted the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission about violence at the club, sending a 14-page letter that detailed a shooting that led to a police chase. It also outlined seven aggravated assault complaints filed at Far West between January and April 2011, the Lakewood Advocate said in an April 22, 2011, report.

"I filed a protest with the TABC," says Dallas-based attorney Dolores Wolfe, who represented 13 neighborhood homeowners associations in the complaint. "At a mediation with us, the TABC and the owners, the owners agreed to let their alcohol license lapse and we all understood when that happened, that they would have to move out."

Far West eventually moved to its new location, where it is now facing opposition once again. This time, it involves a copyright-infringement lawsuit filed by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers — an organization with more than 600,000 members — in federal court in Dallas.

"The owners of Far West had a license [for their music] and fairly quickly stopped paying their fees," says Jackson Wagener, vice president of business and legal affairs for ASCAP. "This is not the first time it's happened but the first time we've had to sue them."

ASCAP filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Universal Music-Z Tunes LLC, Tulum Music and EMI April Music Inc. The suit claims that El Volcan Social Club Inc. (Far West), Gaberial Rosales, Aurelia Franco and Beatriz Cervantez knowingly violated copyright and continues to do so by publicly performing protected musical compositions.

The lawsuit is one of 11 filed against bars and restaurants nationwide, including the Airport Lounge in Milwaukee; Casa Calabria at the Ocean Manor Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and the Shamrock in New Orleans.

"Music is enormously valuable to bars and restaurants, creating an emotional connection with patrons and providing the right ambience to attract and retain customers," said Vince Candilora, executive vice president of licensing for ASCAP, in a press release. "Each of the establishments sued today has decided to use music without compensating songwriters."

In the Dallas lawsuit filed Wednesday, ASCAP claims its representatives made multiple attempts to contact defendants, representatives, agents or employees of Far West and offer to reinstate its license if the club paid its bill. It also used various communications to put the nightclub's owner on notice that unlicensed performances of members' compositions constituted infringement. It claims the owners refused the organization's offers.

The Dallas Observer reached out to the owners of Far West and spoke with an employee who took a message, but the call has yet to be returned.

Wagener says that normally when people think about the songs they love, they think about the performers rather than the songwriters. A good example, he says, is the song "Something Bad," a staple of Sunday night football. Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood performed the chart-topping song as a duet, but it was written by three ASCAP members: Priscilla Renea, Brett James and Chris DeStefano.

ASCAP ensures its members are properly compensated for their work, Wagener says. “It's not just the right thing to do," he says. "It's copyright law."

The organization operates on a nonprofit basis. Wagener says that in 2016, after overhead costs were taken into account, 88 cents of every dollar were distributed to its members.

"Songwriters depend on royalties," he says. "They rely on it to put food on the table and pay their rent. It allows them to continue to make music as a profession."

Three main factors are taken into account when considering how much to charge nightclubs and bars when owners apply for license that gives them access to the more than 10 million songs written by ASCAP members, Wagener says.

First, ASCAP looks at the venue's occupancy. It uses a neutral third party — usually a building authority or a local fire department — to determine the capacity of the venue. Next, it takes into account any cover fee charged. Then it looks at how often music is played there. For example, a typical neighborhood establishment of 150 people that plays live music Thursday, Friday and Saturday would pay an annual licensing fee of $750, a little over $2 a day.

"We want establishments to be able to afford to pay the fees," Wagener says. "We love it when folks are playing our members' music. We just want them to be compensated."

Wagener points out that Far West isn't a typical neighborhood venue. Its occupancy is capped at 1,000 although it can hold 2,000 to 3,000.

"Obviously, a performance in front of a 1,000 people is more valuable than a performance in front of 100 people," he says.

Far West also has locations in other parts of Texas and Oklahoma and is run by what Wagener calls “sophisticated folks who know about the obligations.”

"I can tell you that other locations owned by the same folks are also delinquent," he says. "We would hope that we can work out a settlement for all those establishments. Litigation is a last resort."

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