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?