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RIAA-partner, PRS threatened to sue Sandra Burk, a British woman, for singing on the job. They eventually back down after a torrent of negative publicity.  (Source: BBC News)
Yet another example of irresponsible copyright enforcement rears its ugly head

From suing dead people, to attacking CD-burning of legally-owned content for personal use, to seeking damages against people who don't own a computer, it doesn't seem like there's many lows to which copyright protection organizations like the RIAA won't stoop.  However, a recent case involving the Performing Right Society (PRS) -- a British RIAA affiliate -- shows that even the most curmudgeonly copyright organization can occasionally come around, when faced with overwhelming public scorn.

The humorous tale involves the organization catching wind of a “heinous” offense -- an employee singing in public.  Sandra Burt, 56, who works at A&T Food store (a British supermarket) in Clackmannanshire, UK was told by organization representatives that she would likely face fines for lost royalties for her "performance". 

The debacle began earlier in the year when the PRS threatened the grocery store she worked at, telling them to ditch the radio that played in earshot of customers or pay royalty fees.  Missing the music, Ms. Burt decided to start singing some of her favorite tunes.  She describes, "I would start to sing to myself when I was stacking the shelves just to keep me happy because it was very quiet without the radio."

Then came new threats from the PRS.  Ms. Burt describes, "When I heard that the PRS said I would be prosecuted for not having a performance license, I thought it was a joke and started laughing.  I was then told I could be fined thousands of pounds. But I couldn't stop myself singing. They would need to put a plaster over my mouth to get me to stop, I can't help it."

Indeed, the woman, who describes herself as a Rolling Stones fan and classic rocker, refused to stop singing.  BBC News caught wind of the story and published a piece on it.

The reaction was instant, with many writing furious letters to the PRS.  Facing an overwhelming outpouring of public vehemence, the PRS backed down, as the RIAA occasionally has.  They sent her a bouquet of flowers as an apology and said she had their permission to keep singing.  The note read, "We're very sorry we made a big mistake.  We hear you have a lovely singing voice and we wish you good luck."

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RE: Lost royalties?
By amanojaku on 10/23/2009 10:48:14 AM , Rating: 5
You fool! Don't you know how much money George Lucas lost because of Lightsaber Guy? Hell, everytime someone whips out a glow stick I take a picture for his lawyers.

Seriously, though, a ban on radios and singing in public places? If the RIAA tries that crap here in the States that would be the last thing it ever did.

RE: Lost royalties?
By acase on 10/23/2009 11:14:41 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure that it is from pressure of the RIAA or not...but my fiance works at a Regions Bank, and they were told a few months ago that they were no longer allowed to play the radio where customers could hear it due to copyright infringement.

RE: Lost royalties?
By ClownPuncher on 10/23/2009 12:10:00 PM , Rating: 5
Sounds like a good time to be a gun owner.

RE: Lost royalties?
By stirfry213 on 10/23/2009 1:12:42 PM , Rating: 4
What is the difference between 1 public radio playing so that 100 people can hear it and 100 private radios playing so that 100 people can hear it? So is the RIAA/RPS gonna go after every punk and their brother for playing their car radios loud enough for others to hear it?

If you were charging people to listen to your radio... I could see that. Otherwise, I can't think of anything else to say about this other than... what the f*ck?

RE: Lost royalties?
By Jalek on 10/23/2009 11:24:05 PM , Rating: 2
They could just put lawyers on every streetcorner and they can run over to the window of any car playing music loud enough to be audible from the sidewalk and demand money.

I think there's a name for that already though..

RE: Lost royalties?
By ssjwes1980 on 10/24/2009 7:34:09 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry but where Im from you dont run up to peoples open windows on the street especially if there rides bumpin

RE: Lost royalties?
By Camikazi on 10/24/2009 10:51:10 PM , Rating: 2
Not even lawyers are dumb enough to make themselves targets like that :P Although it would drop the number of lawyers tremendously very quickly. Forget roadkill clean up, will need lawyer street cleanup!

RE: Lost royalties?
By BladeVenom on 10/23/2009 12:02:53 PM , Rating: 2
ASCAP and BMI do that all the time in the USA. You play a radio at work were more than just you can hear it, and the copyright Nazis will be all over you. They spy on businesses all the time.

RE: Lost royalties?
By mmmesq on 10/25/2009 8:27:02 PM , Rating: 2
Bottom line, in the US no one would likely try to collect for performing rights from an employee singing in a store, unless that was the attraction.

1) ASCAP/BMI/SESAC are the US equivalent of PRS. They represent the public performance rights song writers/publishers, rather than the rights of recording artists/record companies.

2) I used to be more up on this, but see for U.S. Copyright basics, and the exclusive right to "perform the work publicly". Other copyrights include: copying, displaying, distributing.

Regarding public performances, the idea used to be in the US, if a store or public place had a sound/PA system that was more than would typically be found in a home, then they would need to be properly licensed by ASCAP/BMI/SESAC (so your clerk at 7-11 with a boom box behind the counter is fine, but Bloomingdales fancy storewide system would require proper licensing, since they choose music as a benefit to the business). Each of those 3 performing rights societies maintains a large catalog of songs to collect performing rights income (e.g., from radio stations), so each song doesn't have to be licensed separately - imagine each radio station negotiating with every music publisher. Muzak is a central clearing house for song/publishing rights in a similar way, but since they create their own recordings, they do not also have to license anything from the recording artists/record companies. Note: If you are a songwriter who isn't also an artist, then public performance royalties may be an important part of your income.

It's easy to beat up PRS, who represents copyright owners, who in turn represent song writers, who often do not receive much income, especially when they do STUPID stuff like this, but it's worth keeping in mind how much money that might go to song writers and recording artists has evaporated in the past decade. Unlicensed use of music certainly hurts the music companies, who may have needed a shock to evolve and are certainly guilty of taking advantage of writers/artists, but it does hurt the creative folks too.

RE: Lost royalties?
By TSS on 10/23/2009 12:11:32 PM , Rating: 2
telling them to ditch the radio that played in earshot of customers or pay royalty fees.

In supermarkets here in holland there's always some sort of background music playing from the speaker system also used for the announcements. I'd wager this music costs licencing fees.

If you set up a radio (which you probably also pay listen fees to) then crank it up, more people hear it so it should cost more. That's what the PRS was saying and the store opted to ban the radio.

The point of this explanation is not to justify it (as i think it's idiotic) but i'm willing to bet this is already the case in america as well. And for quite a while, too.

The singing part... well... Somebody probably got a bit zealous there. But don't think for a second the RIAA wouldn't do it if they had the chance.

RE: Lost royalties?
By Redwin on 10/23/2009 12:48:56 PM , Rating: 2
Most of the music in the stores is "Muzak".. elevator-ish music made from real songs. The first time I heard the muzak version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a grocery store was the first time I felt "old", lol. The licensing fees are probably lower for those versions, but you're right they DO pay licensing fees.

As for employees singing in the workplace, and that not happening in America... lol. Next time you're at a family restaurant and its someone's birthday and the servers come sing to them.. listen to what they sing. It WON'T be the traditional "Happy Birthday Song" normal people would sing to their kids or whatever, because its actually copyrighted, and they'd be sued... EXACTLY as this woman in Britain was being... for singing copyrighted songs in a business where customers could hear.

*Note, I'm not at ALL agreeing with this, I think copyright enforcement on singing is asinine in any country, just wanted to point out the state of things here in the US is pretty much identical.

RE: Lost royalties?
By PlasmaBomb on 10/23/2009 3:39:51 PM , Rating: 5

How the hell was copyright granted on a song that had already been in existence for at least 23 years?

Also wouldn't the copyright belong to whoever first published it, since the book would have been copyrighted? (Children's Praise and Worship, Byers et al., 1928)

Also the copyright being valid for 95 years is stupid.

The purpose of copyrights is
to promote the progress of science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

Having it set at 95 years promotes sitting on your behind collecting royalties.

RE: Lost royalties?
By JediJeb on 10/23/2009 5:59:24 PM , Rating: 2
It is true though. There was a story a few years ago about summer camps having to be careful about what song they sang around campfires as several were copyrighted and if caught they would have to pay royalities. I doubt many true artist would want their music so controlled, but when corporations and investors are allowed to obtain copyrights to others works ( just like Michael Jackson buying the rights to the Beatles Music) this is the type of thing that happens. Copyright law needs to be reformed so that only the author of a work, can own copyright to the material. Even if this was for the life of the artist, I would be ok with that, just as long as others could not profit from someone elses works.

RE: Lost royalties?
By BenSkywalker on 10/24/2009 2:06:03 PM , Rating: 2
Most of the music in the stores is "Muzak".. elevator-ish music made from real songs. The first time I heard the muzak version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a grocery store was the first time I felt "old", lol. The licensing fees are probably lower for those versions, but you're right they DO pay licensing fees.

Muzak is a lot like satellite radio, while you can certainly find painful elevator music, they have everything from that to heavy/thrash metal and gangsta rap(both of those unedited). Flipping through Muzak you can go from KennyG to Beyonce to Pantera to elevator music in a few button presses. Not promoting Muzak by any means, it is incredibly expensive and not even close to a good value, just pointing out the system offers a lot more then what most retailers decide to use.

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