$200k fine for unlicensed music in Melbourne bar
Photo by Peter Tarasiuk/ Broadsheet Melbourne
Melbourne bar Hairy Little Sista ordered to pay nearly $200k for playing songs without licence
The owner of a Melbourne bar caught up in claims of underpayment of wages has now been ordered to pay almost $200,000 in damages for playing popular songs in the venue without paying the proper licence fees.
- A bar owner played nine songs in two venues without a licence
- Businesses must have a licence to play copyrighted music
- The owner was called 40 times over several years but did not finalise a licence, the court heard
Kristine Becker and her company were found to have infringed copyright by not obtaining a licence to play music, by artists including The Beatles and the Bay City Rollers, at two CBD bars — Hairy Little Sista on Little Collins Street and the nearby Hairy Canary.
Every business, from cafe to club to gym, must pay for the privilege of using an artist’s work in their establishment. It is an extra way for artists to earn income for their work, though it is difficult to police.
In a judgement handed down in the Federal Circuit Court last month, Judge Julia Baird found Ms Becker had acted with “disregard” for the rights of the musicians, having “ignored” numerous attempts by the PPCA — the agency that collects the royalties on behalf of record companies and musicians — to contact her.
The court ordered Ms Becker and Hairy Little Sista Pty Ltd, of which she is the sole director and shareholder, to pay $185,000 in damages plus costs.
She was also ordered to stop playing the nine offending songs, including The Ballad of John & Yoko by The Beatles, Hooked On A Feeling by Blue Swede and Saturday Night by Bay City Rollers.
Owner was ‘phoned more than 40 times’
Ms Becker was not in court when the judgement was handed down last month.
Before the hearing, one final attempt was made to call her, without success, according the judgement.
Which songs were played?
- The Ballad of John & Yoko — The Beatles
- Hooked On A Feeling — Blue Swede
- Saturday Night — Bay City Rollers
- T.S.O.P. — Kevin Rowland & Dexys Midnight Runners
- Be My Baby — Bay City Rollers
- Blow — Blossoms
- Stockholm — Atlas Genius
- Imaginadote feat Daddy Yankee — Reykon
- Andy — Last Dinosaurs
Judge Baird was eventually satisfied Ms Becker actually knew she was being sued, and made a ruling on the spot after deciding Ms Becker had no chance of successfully defending the claim.
Judge Baird said that “for the duration each of the venues have been in operation, the venues have been unlicensed and have continued to publicly caused sound recordings owned or controlled by the record companies to be publicly performed”.
“The respondents [Ms Becker and Hairy Little Sista Pty Ltd] appear to have either acted in a flagrant disregard of copyright, or at least to have turned a blind eye or put their ‘head in the sand’,” Judge Baird said.
The judge said Ms Becker or her company were contacted many times over several years by the PPCA, including “some 20 letters and 18 emails”, about the requirement to hold a licence to play music.
“I am also informed that PPCA has contacted Ms Becker via telephone over 40 times, and has had several telephone conversations with her since December 2012 regarding the requirement to hold a licence.”
Ms Becker did submit an application for a licence to play music in February 2014, according to the judgement, but “the negotiation stalled”.
At the time, Ms Becker told the ABC there had been mistakes in the past but that she had tried to do the right thing and wanted to “get this sorted”.
Ms Becker has been contacted for comment about the judgement.
The cafe’s social media pages have since been deleted, though Hairy Little Sista Pty Ltd remains a registered company, according to ASIC records, and the bar continues to trade.
‘A vital income stream’
A spokesperson for the PPCA said the organisation welcomed the result.
“It demonstrates the importance of upholding the rights of our licensor artists and record labels,” he said.
Songwriter Kevin Mitchell, who performs as Bob Evans and also plays in the band Jebediah, said the royalties collected by rights agencies like PPCA and APRA were “a vital income stream”, given the declining value of recorded music in the digital age.
He said streaming through services such as Spotify or Apple Music makes sense for individuals, but it was different if it was done by a bar or restaurant to entertain paying customers.
“[Commercial operators] are using the artists’ music to draw people towards their business to, at the end of the day, spend money.”