Like many animal caretakers, Rosemary Greenway puts on a little music to calm her horses. Music has powers to calm the savage beast, and all that. But now the Performing Rights Society says that playing the music at the Malthouse Equestrian Centre constitutes a public performance and she must pay a licensing fee of about $150 a year. The PRS says the audience it's concerned about is the stable staff of two, not the 11 horses who live at the stable, which is next to a military airport, which makes all kinds of scary noises.

Greenway turned the radio to a classical station. "The staff are not bothered whether they have the radio on or not, in fact they don't particularly like my music and turn if off when I'm not around," she told the Daily Telegraph.

PRS is the equivalent of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. It collects royalties for artists. But these groups around the globe have a hobby of trying to drum up fees from inappropriate targets. Finnish taxi drivers have to pay a fee to play the radio. In the UK charities, car repair shops, home businesses and even the police have come under scrutiny. In the U.S. bookstores and the Girl Scouts have squirmed. WIRED speculates it will start charging music in Second Life, too.The Nascent internet radio industry may collapse under the weight of these rules.
All of these cases seem silly. The London Times reported that the PRS hires a collection agency that just calls small businesses and demands a fee if they hear music in the background, arguing that if anyone can hear the music other than the owner, it's a public performance. But the animal ones seem especially idiotic and mean-spirited. Clearly the only intended audience is the animals; the people get no gain. The British Horse Society says lots of stables have gotten menacing calls, which are often mistaken for pranks. "I think they are an easy target because these people are working outside all the time, they are more likely to put the radio on while mucking out or feeding," said Chris Doran, senior executive. A cattery and the Stokenchurch Dog Rescue were also shaken down.

The result of all these demands? A boatload of lousy publicity for performing rights organizations. That only makes their more reasonable demands for actual performances look silly. The Times speculated aggression in these collections was a reaction to reduced CD sales. The animal keepers in question either negotiate a much lower fee or they stop playing music. Readers on Slashdot suggested buying music out of the purview of the groups -- such as recordings that are really old or otherwise royalty free. I wonder if animal workers will be forced to wear headphones so they don't inadvertently enjoy a public performance. But I'm sure that what you won't see is a bunch of animal businesses and charities forking over a lot of money to the performance rights groups.

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