Artistic License


The college town of Gainesville, Florida, awash in small, quasi- or unprofessional local bands, recently realized it was sitting on a potential gold mine in occupational licensing fees. Since 1953, a local statute has listed "artist"-no further elaboration given-as a "professional" category required to pay a yearly occupational licensing fee to the city. The current yearly fee is $100, same as for a lawyer.

In September, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs contacted bands with whom it had contracted for downtown public concerts, notifying them of a meeting to discuss a new enforcement policy for anyone making money as a musician. Someone started spreading the notice on the Internet, and over 150 local musicians showed up.

Gainesville musician Alyson Carrel says, "Not only were the city and Department of Cultural Affairs unprepared for this type of turnout, but they were unprepared to answer even the basic questions raised. When asked the legal definition of an artist, the city and Department of Cultural Affairs were unable to answer. At one point they said all performers-for instance, all six members of PopCanon, my band-would have to pay an occupational license fee of $100 apiece, each year they are doing business. After further questioning, they changed their minds, saying, Oh no, only the organizer for the band, the one who books the show and receives payment, would need to pay."

Other questions-for instance, are club owners responsible for checking the licenses of the bands they hire?-also went unanswered. In the face of strong citizen objections, the city claimed state law gave it no leeway in enforcement. But Gainesville musician and lawyer Brian Kruger says that's nonsense. The state merely allows the city to charge occupational licensing fees, he explains. It doesn't define the categories for which the fee must be charged. The "artist" category is a local innovation, not a state mandate.

"If they wanted to make a big deal and enforce it, they'd get their butt kicked in court," Kruger says. "If an ordinance doesn't provide a definition and contains penalties, the ambiguity would likely be construed against the government agency. There are different definitions of professional, and they'd have to pick the least restrictive one that applied to the fewest people. And no one makes their full living as a musician here."

Gainesville's Department of Cultural Affairs has refused to comment, saying it is awaiting guidance from the state attorney general's office