Kwik-Fit fitters' sound of music hits £200,000 sour note
ABOVE the din of exhausts being tested and tyres fitted, the radio blasts out the latest chart hits.
But the Kwik-Fit fitters' love of pop music and whether customers can listen to it has seen their employer dragged into the courts by performers' representatives who want the firm to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in licence fees for the privilege.
Kwik-Fit has been disputing for the last ten years whether it is guilty of copyright infringement and refuses to bow to the demands of the Performing Right Society (PRS) to buy a licence. The impasse has led to a 200,000 damages claim by the PRS at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
Yesterday, at a preliminary hearing, the court was told that the case could throw up all manner of issues, including whether it amounts to a public performance when customers happen to hear a song on the Kwik-Fit fitter's radio when inspecting their new tyres.
And does Kwik-Fit have a full defence in a policy of banning radios in the workplace, even if the rule is often ignored by the workers?
The PRS represents more than 32,000 writers and publishers, and holds on their behalf the copyright in 16 million musical works globally. It operates a system of granting licences to businesses which want to play the music.
In the court action, the PRS says Kwik-Fit operates around 600 units throughout Britain and that, for years, there has been the public performance of copyright works by the playing in fitting bays of mobile radios tuned to stations broadcasting popular music.
It was estimated that radios were played in around half of the units, and the society had been complaining to the company since at least 1997 that it needed a licence because copyright was being breached.
"There have been attempts to seek agreement over a long period on this matter, but regrettably these efforts have been unsuccessful," said Craig Connal QC, solicitor-advocate for the PRS.
According to the PRS, the fee for a licence for Kwik-Fit would be around 30,000 a year. Given the number of years where there had been a flagrant breach of copyright, 200,000 would be a reasonable sum to be paid in damages, the society stated.
Kwik-Fit said it held licences from the PRS for all its premises where televisions were provided for the public to watch.
It added that it did not authorise or give permission for the playing of music, and its policy prohibited radios.
Mark Lindsay, counsel for Kwik-Fit, accepted that it had carried out a survey in 2004 of about half its premises and found instances of radios being played. "It was carried out in a health and safety context, and it has never been accepted that music was being played that could be heard by members of the public. We would dispute whether there is a 'public performance' at all."
Lord Emslie agreed the case should be continued for legal issues to be debated.
COURTS ON TRACK
LAWSUITS across the globe are part of a crackdown on copyright infringement. Illegal downloading is estimated to have cost the UK music industry 650 million in two years. That is compounded by the estimated 37 million counterfeit CDs bought every year in the UK.
Organised crime is moving into music piracy because of the high profits to be earned, with gangs in Russia and China among the worst offenders.
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