Herbert v. Stanley Co.
242 U.S. 591 (1917)

  • After the Copyright Act of 1909 was passed, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) started asserting that businesses needed to pay royalties for the right to play copyrighted music in their establishments.
  • ASCAP sued two restaurants that had orchestra playing music in the background while the diners ate (actually they were performing 'comic operas', so it was more like dinner theater).
    • ASCAP argued that this was an infringement of their right to public performance.
    • The restaurants argued that they did not charge admission to enter, they only made money by selling food. The restaurants argued that they should not have to pay royalties on a public performance unless the restaurant patrons were charged a separate fee to listen to the music.
  • The Trial Court found for the restaurants. ASCAP appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. ASCAP appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that part of the reason people come to the restaurant was to hear the music. Even if there isn't a separate 'fee' to listen, the restaurant is making money off the performance because more people will come to the restaurant to hear the music and then buy more food.
      • "The object is a repast in surroundings that to people having limited powers of conversation, or disliking the rival noise, give a luxurious pleasure not to be had from eating a silent meal."