Jon Oulman runs the Amsterdam Bar & Hall in St. Paul with his son Jarret Oulman, who claimed ASCAP was overcharging the venue. / Star Tribune file, Renee Jones Schneider

Jon Oulman runs the Amsterdam Bar & Hall in St. Paul with his son Jarret Oulman, who claimed ASCAP was overcharging the venue. / Star Tribune file, Renee Jones Schneider

One of the Twin Cities’ most well-regarded live music venues, the Amsterdam Bar & Hall in downtown St. Paul, was among 19 bars nationwide hit in lawsuits announced Tuesday morning for allegedly not paying an international copyright organization that collects fees for songwriters. By day’s end, though, the dispute was settled, and the Amsterdam paid those fees.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers — widely known as ASCAP in the music industry — filed a copyright infringement claim against the Amsterdam in federal court in New York.

A nonprofit organization that works on behalf of more than 725,000 songwriters worldwide, ASCAP faulted the St. Paul bar and restaurant for not paying the licensing fees required for its members’ songs to be performed there, or for songs played off any audio device as background music. This includes cover songs, whenever a live act plays a song on stage by another musician who happens to be an ASCAP member.

In its press release announcing the 19 lawsuits, ASCAP said the fees usually amount to “less than $2 per day” ($730 annually). Before the settlement was made Tuesday afternoon, though, the Amsterdam’s owners said their ASCAP fee nearly doubled in 2017 to over $10,000 annually, and nearly $25,000 total was demanded for the full 2½-year time period in which the fees were disputed. Those fees were based on its 550-person capacity (including its restaurant space) and its frequency of events.

ASCAP reps would not confirm those figures. Neither side would say how much was paid in the end to settle the lawsuit.

ASCAP’s vice president of legal affairs and business matters, Jackson Wagener, said the Amsterdam’s case and the other 18 lawsuits against venues this week were all “last-resort” efforts that followed several years of nonpayment. Some of the other venues hit include the Blue Velvet Lounge in Madison, Wis., and the Back Room in New York.

“Our overall goal is to keep licensing affordable enough for these places, because nobody benefits if they go out of business,” Wagener said. However, he said of the musicians represented by ASCAP, “They are like small businesses themselves, and we need to help them, too.”

But he confirmed the Amsterdam ultimately made good on its end: “They are licensed again, and we’re happy to have them back,” he said.

Before the settlement, Amsterdam co-owner Jarret Oulman said he felt like his venue was being unfairly singled out and overcharged.

“Someone in New York who’s never been to Minnesota just came up with this amount one day, and we just don’t think it’s at all fair or accurate,” said Oulman, who runs the Amsterdam and another popular music venue in Minneapolis, the 331 Club, along with his dad, Jon Oulman.

Twin Cities musicians who are ASCAP members stuck up for the organization but also sympathized with the strain it could cause to a venue like the Amsterdam.

“The mailbox money [ASCAP] provides -- even if it’s not a lot -- can be very helpful to musicians, especially those of us who can’t tour all the time,” said Nicholas David, the steady-gigging finalist from NBC’s “The Voice” who’s a father of three. He added, though, “There needs to be checks and balances on an entity with the kind of power they have.”

Eric Carranza, a singer/songwriter, sideman and guitar teacher who works near the Amsterdam at Lowertown Lessons, praised the venue. However, he added, “Songwriters who make a living as working musicians really do benefit from registering their works with these organizations, as independent musicians have less and less ways to earn income.”

Some local music venues, such as the Acadia Cafe in Minneapolis or Big V’s in St. Paul, avoid paying ASCAP fees by getting musicians to agree to not play songs by ASCAP members.

Even before he settled the fee dispute later in the day Tuesday, Jarret Oulman said the Amsterdam would never go that route.

“We totally recognize ASCAP’s importance and what it does to collect money rightfully owed to artists,” the bar owner said.