You can’t be bitter at a Kwik Fit fitter

8 October 2007

Once every few weeks, a copyright news story of breathtaking dumbness hits the headlines. And this time, it’s our turn:

A car repair firm has been taken to court accused of infringing musical copyright because its employees listen to radios at work. The action against the Kwik-Fit Group has been brought by the Performing Rights Society which collects royalties for songwriters and performers.

It’s hard to see what grounds they could possibly have. It’s certainly hard to convince someone that it does their business harm: It’s to help the ambience of the work place – Kwik Fit are not directly profiting from the music on the radio by selling tickets to these “public performances”, nor are they using the music or the performers’ image to publicly endorse or advertise their firm. Nor is the music they play any reason why a normal person goes to a garage to get their car fixed. You could argue it helps improve their profitability by keeping the workforce happy or at least sated – but how the hell do you quantify that (not to mention account for the workers who don’t like listening to commercial radio at work).

It is equally hard to see how playing the radio they are going to reduce the sales of their music to Kwik Fit’s customers or workers; a tinny version of a song playing from a 10-year-old knackered Sony radio is hardly a substitute for a quality version you play in your own home at your own choosing. Furthermore, the performing rights agencies have already been paid once for their trouble, through the respective radio station’s subscription to the MCPS-PRS. And there is even a trickle-up effect by increasing the listenership of the radio station’s audience and thus its advertising revenue, which eventually means, hey presto, more revenue. Should their efforts succeed, then it means the likes of the The Sun could also sue Kwik Fit for lettings its employees buy just one copy of the paper and passing it round during their tea break, instead of getting on each. That should demonstrates the absurdity of this situation enough, I hope.

While, thanks to the aforementioned differences in the substitution effect, this is a totally different kettle of fish from illegal downloading, the two are linked: it’s a clear sign of an industry in an utter shitspazz about rapidly decreasing revenues and desperately trying to claw it back wherever it can, even if it means making ridiculously Scroogeish claims like this one. Nobody wins at the end of the day – if this action succeeds, it’ll be the greasy spoons and the hairdressers next, until one day they’ll suddenly wonder why nobody is listening to their songs on the radio any more.

As a saccharine pop-hater, in my ideal fantasy world Kwik Fit garages nationwide would switch from radio to playing downloads of Radiohead’s In Rainbows that they bought at a price they deemed fair and appropriate. But reality gets in the way of such dreams, and I’m willing to at least appreciate the vital role shit pop music plays in making monotonous and unpleasant jobs mildly bearable for a sizeable proportion of the population. So instead, I’d settle for natural and poetic justice in this case: the MCPS-PRS losing a metric shitload of cash in legal costs by pursuing a futile court case such as this one (just as in the US, the MPAA is pissing money away on lawsuits) and Kwik Fit’s fitters carry on merrily playing crappy pop in their garages till kingdom come.


4 Responses

It’s worth clearly drawing a distinction between the MPAA, as an industry body, and the PRS, as a collection society. PRS doesn’t have “a business”, as such – they’re non-profit – so I’m not sure how relevant the arguments about the lack of harm it does to their business are. I think the key point, which you’re spot on about, is that the PRS has already got the money once, from the radio station. And if the PRS wants to start setting a precedent that playing any radio station in a workplace where customers may hear it counts as re-broadcasting it, then they should be open about that – and open themselves up to the ridicule they deserve – and not hedge it by making false comparisons to shops or restaurants playing their own selection of music.

Have you noticed that the radio stations keep playing adverts from the PRS (tagline: Where would we be without music?) basically saying that you can’t listen to the radio in an office without a PRS licence?

Which, in upshot, means that the radio stations are now broadcasting messages demanding that you get a licence before you can listen to them. So people will end up having to switch off the radio in offices and workplaces.

Why take down one industry when you can take down another with it at the same time?

Graham

Shitspazz? That’s not terribly PC now is it Chris?

Pete W

I had a run-in with the PRS a few years ago over performances of folk music. I ran a small ‘festival’ in our village (i.e. got two pubs and the village hall to stage events in the same weekend) and was targeted by the PRS as a ‘festival organiser’ who, in their books, was liable for payments above and beyond the PRS licenses that the pubs already had. The problem was that most of the music peformed was either traditional (with no identified composer) or original material performed by singer-songwriters.

It transpired that if I stood up in a pub and sang ‘Wild Rover’, someone would have to pay money to the PRS even though no-one knows who wrote the song. They would see my ‘arrangement’ of the song as my own composition. The fact that I am not registered with the PRS to receive any benefits from my ‘arrangement’ being performed in public cuts no ice. They still want the money.

It’s a different issue from the Kwik Fit example but the conclusion is the same – a system that commodifies the act of listening to music cannot be reduced to a simple royalty payment. To attempt to enforce such a system creates unfair anomolies as well as a bureaucratic nightmare.