ASCAP looking for licensing fees from an arcade operator for Guitar Hero Arcade

Guitar Hero

Here’s a little bit of a strange news story – nine months after Raw Thrills’/Activision/Konami released Guitar Hero Arcade, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (or ASCAP for short – good thing they left out that extra ‘S’ right?) is saying that an operator in the US needs to pay them $800 in licensing fees for simply running a GHA machine at his location. According to,  ASCAP sees the machine as a jukebox and thus wants their piece of the pie for “public performances”. ASCAP gets such from jukeboxes and considers Guitar Hero Arcade to be a jukebox in a public place rather than a video game.

Of the question now is are they going to go after every Gamestop/Best Buy/WalMart in the US which runs an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 kiosk featuring a Guitar Hero game? If they want to remain consistent then they should otherwise it seems quite unfair to me. Are they going to go after operators who have other music games like Dance Dance Revolution? If that is the case then it’s going to put a lot of extra strain on music games at the arcade in general unless they involve original music that ASCAP doesn’t control. It’s hard to say where this is headed and when it comes to music rights it certainly seems to be a sensitive subject for many. Raw Thrills’ has not commented on the story yet but the ASCAP says that they are”…currently in negotiations with the manufacturer for the commercial use of these machines.” We’ll keep an eye on this and see what happens.

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22 Comments on “ASCAP looking for licensing fees from an arcade operator for Guitar Hero Arcade”

  1. editor Says:

    questions raised:

    – is it just amusement music machines in bars?
    – will this include the DDR / PiU machines in use?
    – is this just in St. Louis?
    – who should pay (Raw Thrills, Activison, Konami or operator)?

    Sounds like Betson will be having a great 2010!

  2. Shaggy Says:

    One thing is for certain – if anyone has to pay, it can’t be the operators, otherwise they will abandon the game in droves. I would think that Activision should have to foot the bill, since it’s really their baby, everyone else just made it into something that would work in public.

  3. editor Says:

    According to the ASCAP law – omission is no excuse, so the operator pays a fine, and Activision covers the license fee?

    I just think this has opened a can of worms!

    We still on for the podcast before Monday?

  4. editor Says:

    The ASCAP stated in following email remarks that they were treating the GHA machine in the same way as they classify a jukebox (normally taking 20 per cent of monthly revenue). They were also now considering other amusement music games for similar yearly fees! Sources suggested that the ASCAP wanted machines removed from multiple locations supported by the operator – based in St. Louis – the suggestion that arcade areas in cinemas were one contested location. New information suggested the main thrust of the ASCAP argument was the utilization of the amusement machines meant music could be heard by others, including those in near by bars, so acting as entertainment, just like a jukebox, and so infringed the ASCAP agreement.

  5. Bill Says:

    ARGH! We already regret purchasing so many of these for the route, as they are averaging 70.00 a week gross. With the occasional stolen guitar, they are already a blunder for us. this could bury it for us!

  6. editor Says:

    Bill – you surprise me! you must be the only operator losing money on GHA I have heard of!! I think your location may be the factor! Not a machine for all locations (just like Big Buck).

    The only real complaint was the bugs and faulty controller – but they seem addressed.

  7. Jordan Says:

    I’d assume that a dance game would be more of a jukebox than the GHA machines…

  8. editor Says:

    They will not define their definition, but it seems – if the machine attracts an audience with music then it is the target of the ASCAP!

  9. “Bill – you surprise me! you must be the only operator losing money on GHA I have heard of!!”

    Not the only one I’ve seen. My university brought a machine into the SU bar to replace Sega Rally 3 (which had been fairly popular), and it sat virtually unused for weeks. Eventually, the poor takings saw it shunted off into the games room where it has an even lower profile. If I were to guess why it failed in this location, I’d probably put it down to the nature of the customer base – a lot of students would own the console games as they work well at parties, so they (and likely their friends) wouldn’t bother with any pay-per-play model.

    • arkadez Says:

      I can attest to the same findings, the Guitar Hero machines have not lived up to the hype earnings wise. I know of several operators who are not satisfied with the weekly earnings of these machines. This ASCAP business can only make things worse for the operators so Betson had better work something out.

  10. editor Says:

    The situation is reminiscent of the complaints on Big Buck Hunter and Golden Tee – these are machines that only work in specific demographic pools.

    This is not PR – GHA dose phenomenal in some locations, I am trying to gather a pool of venues that are and are not doing well with it. I can tell you from the list so far, unique mall and cinema locations are one hot spot. Please describe your site and if you have alcohol when saying if it dose well with you?

  11. Bill Says:

    Editor, we are running these primarily in Bowling Center FEC arcades. Have tried GH in 5 of them thus far, all lackluster. Also a lackluster experiment is a busy roller skating location. However, we did some better collections over the summer in a seasonal Amusement Park. What made it work there is the heavy flow of transient traffic coupled with the name recognition of the GH brand I suspect.

  12. editor Says:

    Just learnt that Rock Band is also being turned into a attraction piece so we should see the sparks fly.

    Regarding location – a good observation, high traffic venue with face recognition. Any chance that at the bowling sites it was close to the bar? The success at the Brighton Pier needed a lot of promotional work, so this is another factor (wonder if the tournament element would help)?

    From what people are saying – the best location would be a shopping mall?

    • Bill Says:

      As far as location within the bowling FEC’s, In all circumstances the GH is located at the front portion of the arcade rooms where there is the most visibility to the patrons entering that area. The bar’s in these places are all located away from the arcade areas. However, alcohol consumption is permited within the arcade areas.

      On another note, it seems to be only the casual customers that give GH any love. The dedicated gamers seem to ignore it, and head for things like Rambo, and the Dance Revolution and In The Groove type games.

  13. Neil John Brimelow Says:

    Wouldn’t the licensing fees for the music already be accounted for during the production of the game? How could the manufacturers build an ARCADE game, a game DESIGNED for public use without getting the licenses for “public performance.” Seems like Asscap is double dipping.

    On a separate note, why would any operator buy a “Guitar Hero” arcade game when the game is available (for free) to play at just about every gamestop, Sears, Kmart, Wal-Mart and Best Buy in the world?

    • editor Says:

      The music on the arcade machine has been specially selected, and with that licensed for use from the original home version – but they did not use all, and the license is secured for amusement application – not for public-performance.

      The last point is a error made by many in the consumer scene – amusement works by impulse play in the current market. The opportunity and availability are factors in most coin-drop. The days of a player picking a venue for games are becoming fewer each day.

  14. RJ Amusements Says:

    The JLO which licenses CD Jukeboxes says that a jukebox can not have a hard drive for a storage of media. These games all use a hard drive and also they are all skill based machines not a music selection devise, If you “suck” at the game your song ends. I’d say if you make a jukebox selection you get to hear the entire song (unless canceled). Now Raw Thrills did recently send out an update so that you do go through the entire song in a beginner beginner mode to teach people how to play Guitar Hero. It def. sounds unmerited to say they want royalties from an arcade game, which does not in any way represent or act like a jukebox!

  15. Bill Says:


    After reviewing the numbers, i can confirm that we will be better off dumping our Guitar heroes once this licenese fee is in place.

  16. David Sinclair Says:

    A bit late to the discussion, however, I can enter some first hand information. Activision in its sale of the Guitar Hero software regardless of its sale claims ownership to the public performance rights. They have alluded to a license relationship with iGames but none actually is legally binding (standard form contract language).

    Thus, the public performance rights being sought by ASCAP should go directly to Activision. Activision has legal precedent in enforcing their Public Performance Rights you just need to dig a little.

    Ironically, the sale of the Video Game through mass merchants “legally” transfers the Public Performance right to the owner of the video game disc. The same follows through with the patents. Check it out with IP lawyers.

    But at the end of the day, the company with the deepest pocket will win regardless of the law.

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