Silent Running

English: Polish transistor radio Eltra Izabell...

English: Polish transistor radio Eltra Izabella Polski: Radio Izabella produkcji Eltry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once upon a time there was a happy, cheery workshop where everyone worked happily accompanied by the sound of their local radio station.  They hummed along to the songs, occasionally danced, laughed at jokes, discussed the news, listened to the cricket.  Then the man from PRS for Music came along and told the boss that he’d have to pay a fee because so many people listening to one radio counted as a public performance, especially as people outside might conceivably be able to hear it too and therefore the artists should be recompensed for this concert that they weren’t being paid to perform.  So the boss told the workers to take the radio home because he wasn’t prepared to pay for them to listen to music.  And from then on the workshop was quiet and sullen, less chatting, less laughing and the workers felt less happy and less motivated to work.  The artists still received their royalties from the radio station but the workers lost something important.  Still they worked accompanied by only the sound of machines, telephones, keyboard clatter or dripping taps, quiet drudgery occasionally punctuated by a bit of chatter.

This is the sorry tale repeated across the country.  I’m a content creator, not just on this blog but my photos and other works, and as such I appreciate the importance of copyright protection, but the issue of Music Licences is ridiculous.  Having a radio at work isn’t depriving artists of anything, it’s not like in the absence of a radio the workers would all go out and buy MP3 players and load them with every song ever recorded and likely to be played on local radio.

The actual rules class workplaces as “public places” as far as their interpretation of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Acts 1988 goes – in their words (this extract being “fair use”, by the way)   “In UK copyright law, a person wishing to play copyright music in public will generally require the consent (or licence) of the copyright owner before doing so. ‘In public’ means, broadly speaking, to an audience outside of his/her domestic or home circle. If the person does not obtain the required licence they may risk infringing copyright.”  The words “broadly speaking” are important, I feel their reach is too broad.

The rules exempt the communal areas of blocks of flats for example which could easily encompass a recreation area which could seat thirty or forty people listening to the same radio broadcast, or an album, wouldn’t that constitute more of a public performance than ten mechanics in a garage?  Similarly listening to music in a car is exempted but if you open the window wouldn’t anyone outside constitute an audience – “[An Artist’s] audience includes anyone listening to their music outside the domestic circle or home life.”  Will PRS for Music soon have roadside patrols?

At the end of the day the radio station will still pay to broadcast the music, they pay the same whether those ten mechanics are listening at work, whether the customers can hear it or whether all of them were listening individually at home.  PRS for Music may say that people are listening to music for free and not buying it, the same argument as piracy, but it’s not free, the broadcast has been paid for already and there is even the possibility that having heard a song at work that they might not hear otherwise because they don’t listen to the radio at home someone might go out and buy the album themselves.  Admittedly if someone buys an album and plays it at work then that’s more in line with PRS for Music’s description of a public performance but a radio isn’t in my opinion.

Background music and chat has been shown to improve mood, improve staff interactions, it can inspire creativity and boost productivity, it makes people feel good.  But like so much these days the cost of feeling good in this case is financial.

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