Listening to the radio at work? You may be a copyright infringer!

Sheet MusicA recent case in the UK Courts is raising some interesting questions about liability for copyright infringement by companies whose employees play music in the workplace.

In the case at hand, mechanics for a Scottish car repair service played their personal radios in the work-bays of the company’s garage. Obviously, an auto-repair shop is a noisy place, so the radios’ volume settings were on the loud side. Consequently, customers, other mechanics and passersby could also hear the music being played.

The Performing Rights Society responsible for collecting royalties for songwriters and performers in the UK, sued the shop for damages of two hundred thousand pounds (around $400,00) for copyright infringement on grounds that this is a “public performance” within the meaning of copyright law. But is it?

The repair shop asked the Court to dismiss the case, but the judge refused, stating that the plaintiff was entitled to present its case. If evidence at trial supports the Performing Rights Society’s claims, the repair firm will be liable. The judge was careful not to express an opinion that the society would succeed, but only that the case should be allowed to proceed.

So, is this really a public performance? Unlike the argument in cases involving restaurants and nightclubs, where the music adds to the ‘atmosphere’ and may be part of the customers’ reason for choosing a particular place to dine, customers probably aren’t patronizing this business because of the music played, are they? Suppose you play hour home stereo with the windows open, and loudly enough that neighbors can hear it? Are you inadvertently giving a public performance? Suppose the windows are closed, but you live in an apartment with thin walls, so your neighbors can hear your musical selections? How about your cubicle at work? Should a taxi service be prohibited from turning on the radios in its cars, unless it first obtains a special public performance license?

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10 Responses to Listening to the radio at work? You may be a copyright infringer!

  1. dont the radio station already pay for the rights to play the music so why is it they after it again another rip off listen to only talk radio

  2. what about mp3’s and ipods? and is there anywhere i can see a copy of this law my boss says has come into effect?

  3. can i listen to my own radio at work.i have listened to it for 10 years but now i have been told the company needs some sort of licence

  4. We have Sirrhus overhead day in and day out. They play a song “My wicked way with you”. I have reported it twice that I’m offended by it’s
    immoral words and they still play the horrible
    CAFE music, including this repulsive song. Customers are repulsed by it and some leave.
    What is my right since nothing else is making any sense and all appear to not hear me say that “It’s driving me crazy to the point that it affects my sales.”

  5. Depends on whether others than the individual listening can hear the program. Ultimately, it’s a matter for the company to set a policy, and employees to abide by said policy.

  6. Can anyone give a straight answer to employees listening to their own radio at work in a factory where there is less than 5 of them? Is this an infringement? The business is not providing this service for them so surely it can’t be infringing on copyright? The employees are using the radio for their, and I quote, “private, personal listening enjoyment”.

  7. Thanks for your comment, Colin, but maybe you’re overlooking an important point here. The Radio Station’s payment to the PRS only covers the Radio station’s license to broadcast the songs to its listeners (for their private, personal listening enjoyment). The re-distribution of the radio station’s signal to customers at the shop requires a separate license (and possibly another, from the radio station[owner of copyright in its broadcast], as well.)

  8. Surely the radio station has already paid the PRS in order to broadcast the music being played, so therefore how can you possibly be in breach of copyright by playing it at any volume when anyone can just turn their own radio on and hear the same music? The PRS can’t collect copyright twice.

  9. Yes, it’s true… the company MAY need a license for you to listen to the radio at work. This is probably true only if you’re listening in non-private areas, (so, if you have your own office, you’re probably NOT required to have a license).

    More and more companies are establishing policies about this kind of thing.. Sadly, this may require turning off the radio.

  10. Elaine –

    The copyright law is located at Title 17 of the United States Code. You can also find lots of information at the Copyright office webpage , but if your boss is saying “no ipods”, at work, that’s not about law, it’s a company policy. There’s no prohibition on listening to music PRIVATELY at work (i.e., with earphones) … but the company CAN establish policies about such things. Ignore them at your peril.

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