May 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio May 1999 Current Issue
May 1999 Jonathan HowePLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner


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 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?

Stanley Janusz
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 misconduct.

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?

Allyson Hannigan
Conference and Meetings Assistant
Clinical Laboratory Management Association
Wayne, Pa.

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 royalties due.

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 (, and, 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 hospitality law.

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