Suit gets bitter for the Kwik-Fit fitters

The Kwik-Fit garage chain is being taken to court accused of violating musical copyright. Royalties agency the Performing Rights Society (PRS) is suing the company because of the volume at which mechanics play the radio while working.

The PRS says that because mechanics play their music loudly enough to be heard by colleagues and customers, it constitutes a 'performance' of the music which triggers royalty payments to artists through it.

The case came before the Court of Session in Edinburgh last week, where a judge said he would not dismiss the claim. The PRS is claiming £200,000 in damages in the case.

"Kwik-Fit has been given every opportunity to take out the appropriate licences but they have refused," said a PRS statement. "Court action is regrettable but Kwik-Fit’s actions have left us with no choice."

"If copyright music is played in public – in shops, restaurants, workplaces or any other business, then a PRS license is required. Thousands of such businesses throughout the UK have participated in this agreement since 1914 and understand the need for it," said the PRS.

Kwik-Fit, which is based in Edinburgh, told BBC News that it would fight the case and that it has a policy banning the use of radios in its garages.

PRS claims to have evidence that that policy is failing, though. It told the court that it had noted 250 occasions on which music was played at Kwik-Fit.

"The key point to note, it was said, was that the findings on each occasion were the same, with music audibly 'blaring' from employee's radios in such circumstances that the defenders' local and central management could not have failed to be aware of what was going on," said the judge in the case, Lord Emslie, according to the BBC.

"The allegations are of a widespread and consistent picture emerging over many years whereby routine copyright infringement in the workplace was, or inferentially must have been, known to and 'authorised' or 'permitted' by local and central management," he said.

The PRS is a non-profit body which collects royalties on behalf of its 50,000 members. Public places which play music must pay it a licence, which it says goes to support the creation of music.

"[PRS] licenses the public performance of music on behalf of its 50,000 composer, songwriter and music publisher members and pays royalties to them each time a piece of music is played in public," it said. "Music royalties create a future for music by supporting creators while they continue to write."

The PRS has estimated that the problem exists in around half of Kwik-Fit's 600 UK outlets. It says that the company owes it around £30,000 per year in licence fees, dating back to 2007.

Kwik-Fit said in hearings earlier this year that it had carried out a health and safety audit which found that music was played in its garages in contravention of its policy, but that it did not accept that it could be heard by the public or constituted a 'performance'.