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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: Has this ever been tried?
By JS on 10/24/2009 8:52:27 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know about American or British laws, but I do know that in Sweden the music in the radio broadcasts is licensed for private reception and consumption. The radio broadcaster pays a royalty to the music creators to be able to play their music on the airwaves.

If someone "re-broadcasts" it, i.e. plays it out loud to a lot of people in a store or public space, it is considered a kind of public performance and you need to pay royalties for the music being played (again). Theoretically, I don't think you can even play a cd in your own store without paying royalties.

I do believe the fees involved are generalized, i.e. there is a blanket fee you pay every year for being able to play all the music you want in your store.


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