Music Right Next Door Legal Fund
Support ongoing litigation to preserve everyone's Constitutional right
to enjoy live music (or any other private activity) in their living rooms
It's about a local Township that believes that the existing Zoning Ordinance prohibits residents from hosting house concerts in their living rooms. Cindy Harris and Rick Heath feel strongly that a house concert is no different than any other kind of private party and that the Township's attempts to prevent them from inviting guests to their home to share a potluck supper and an evening of music violate their Constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.
It's a party where friends gather to share live music and potluck food. Many people are familiar with the idea of a football party where guests "chip in" for pizza and beer and watch the game on the widescreen TV. At a house concert, guests bring the food and chip in for the music.
After hosting house concert parties for years, in 2003 Cindy and Rick received a letter from O'Hara Township informing them that house concerts were prohibited under the local Zoning Ordinance (see Sections 72-1.3 and 72-5.22) and ordering them to cease and desist. There had been an anonymous complaint from a neighbor that an upcoming house concert had been advertised in the newspaper and on a web site. In fact the article in the paper was not an advertisement but the result of a slow news day and an alert reporter who had interviewed Cindy when he discovered that she was hosting an "Ignore the Superbowl Party" featuring live music in her living room. The web site was one that Cindy had been constructing so that she could send a link to extensive information resources about her upcoming concerts and although it was listed in some search engines, it rarely received enough visits to equal the number of e-mailed invitations.
The short answer is that we were left with no other options.
In December 2006, the Federal judge issued an order dismissing the complaint on the grounds that it was "not ripe for review." Cindy and Rick believe that the Court was mistaken in its analysis of the situation and reading of the precedents, so they appealed to the Federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals. A confidential mediation process recommended by the Appeals Court broke down in May, 2007 and the Court issued a briefing order. The appeal brief was filed in August, 2007. Since the brief was longer than the Court requested, a request to exceed the word count was also filed. Usually these requests are routinely granted, but in our case counsel for the Township filed a motion to deny the request to exceed the word count. That motion was resolved in our favor in early November. A response brief was submitted by the Township, and we replied to that. Since neither party requested oral arguments, as of November 21, 2007 we are waiting for the Court to rule on the appeal. It's possible that they could request oral arguments, but even if they don't, it's likely that it will be at least six months and perhaps as long as a year before an opinion is handed down.
The Music Right Next Door Legal Fund has been established as a trustee account at PNC Bank in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The fund agreement specifies that upon submission of legal bills, fines and any other financial obligations related to this matter, the Trustee will use the funds in the account to satisfy those obligations. When the matter is completely resolved, the agreement specifies that any funds remaining will be donated to one or more 501(c)(3) organizations that promote live acoustic music or related issues.
Music Right Next Door Legal Fund
c/o Kathy Hess and Associates
The St. Clair Building
1725 Washington Rd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15241
What you can do depends on who you are and what you are willing and able to do.
1. Make a donation. Just print out this form and mail it with your contribution. Even if you can only donate whatever you'd normally contribute to attend a single house concert that would be enough. We'd love to raise $10 from each of 1000 people by the end of 2007. This is all about individuals banding together to support First Amendment rights in a big way.
5. If you have a web site for your house concert series or your own performances, or if you blog, you can display this graphic on your web site or blog and link to this address. You can also Share on Facebook
6. Buttons are available to give away to anyone who makes a donation. They'll be a great adjunct to the basket and the cards, so if you'd like me to send you a batch of 10 for starters, drop me a note with your address
New! The Pitsburgh Post-Gazette has published an article about our house concert to benefit the Lauri Ann West Memorial Library. And PG commentator Ruth Ann Dailey wrote a response to that article that lays out clearly most of the key issues.
Read a great article about house concerts at Musician's Atlas
For more information, contact Cindy Harris
Copyright 2007, All rights reserved
Last update: 15 September 2007