Print 39 comment(s) - last by iFX.. on Oct 26 at 3:16 AM

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."

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

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.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki