Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio May
The Law & the Planner
BY JONATHAN HOWE
Personal Property Liability...Music Licensing
When a laptop is stolen, are event sponsors liable?
Following are answers to readers’ legal questions. If you
have a question you would like considered for future publication,
please e-mail your concern to firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret all questions
cannot be answered.
Q: When we go to shows, our board members use
their personal equipment. If a laptop is stolen, are the sponsors
of the event responsible?
Board of Trustees Vice President and Chair
The Home Based Business Council
Neptune City, N.J.
A: Believe it or not, people still have some
responsibility to look after their belongings. It’s only when
someone else has a duty to watch over the property that liability
might arise. If the sponsor says, “It’s OK to leave your stuff in
the meeting room; we’ll lock it up,” the sponsor may be taking on
the responsibility. If the room doesn’t get locked as a result of
the sponsor’s negligence, the laptop owner could have a good claim
for the loss sustained.
The hotel also might be held responsible. If the laptop is left
carelessly on a chair in the lobby a public area that would be the
individual’s responsibility. But if it has been handed over to the
hotel for safekeeping, whether checked with a coat or placed in the
hotel safe, that is a different scenario. Some courts hold that a
hotel is practically an absolute insurer of the safety of the
property entrusted to its care by a guest. If the individual is not
an overnight guest, however, and is there only to attend a meeting,
the property may be liable only for gross negligence or willful
When the laptop is checked, the hotel does take on a strict
liability based upon state law because the property is entrusted to
the possession and control of the hotel. Nonetheless, in most
states there will be statutory limitations on how much money can be
recovered as long as the hotel has notified the guest of its
limitation of liability.
In many states, leaving valuables loose in the guest room may
absolve the hotel if it has provided a means of safekeeping, such
as an in-room safe or a safe-deposit box at the front desk. If the
laptop is stolen by one of the hotel’s employees or agents,
however, the hotel is responsible.
All meeting sponsors should remind attendees they are
responsible for the safekeeping of their personal property unless
they check it or otherwise use the services of the hotel to protect
it. Another word to wise travelers: Review your homeowners or
business insurance to see whether personal laptops are covered.
Q: We hold an annual conference each year,
using music for which we pay licensing fees to both BMI and ASCAP.
Do we need to pay both organizations? How do we know to which
organization we should be submitting fees?
Conference and Meetings Assistant
Clinical Laboratory Management Association
A: As long as you are using songs from both
organizations, you’ll need to pay both the American Society of
Composers, Authors and Publishers and Broadcast Music Inc. Each has
substantial libraries for which it is the sole licensor of
copyrighted music for public performance.
If a planner were to limit the use of music to either ASCAP or
BMI, then, of course, the only fees due would be to that particular
society. In other words, if you use nothing but BMI music there is
no reason to pay ASCAP a fee. But executing such a restriction may
be more trouble than it’s worth.
Both BMI and ASCAP licenses are ongoing; thus, once you have
obtained a license, there is no need to reapply for a new one.
Minimum annual fees must be paid and reports filed each year to
maintain the license; the minimum fee is applied against the
A third performing rights organization, SESAC, has expressed
interest in charging licensing fees. Some meeting sponsors have
been contacted by SESAC regarding licensing and payment of
royalties. If you are contacted, you must evaluate the extent to
which SESAC music plays a part in your meetings. Details are
available from these organizations’ respective Web sites (www.ascap.com, www.bmi.com and www.sesac.com),
including the titles for which each owns licensing rights.
Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is
a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of
Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and
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