If You Play Your Radio Loud Enough For Your Neighbor To Hear, Is It Copyright Infringement?

from the maybe-so dept

In the past, we’ve wondered about the business logic of various music performance societies suing restaurants and bars for playing a music without a license. However, we never denied that it was well within their legal rights to go after these places for not getting a license for performance rights. It just didn’t seem very smart from the business side of things. Still, it’s not hard to go from the question of whether or not restaurants should pay for performance rights when playing music to rather ridiculous situations. Take, for example, the case that reader El Nege points us to in the UK, where a car repair firm is being sued because its mechanics listened to their personal radios too loud.

It’s not difficult at all to figure out what’s going on here. The mechanics working out in the garage have radios playing while they work, and there’s plenty of noise in the garage, so they’re likely to turn those radios up. Customers in the enclosed area next to the garage are certainly likely to hear that music… but is it really a public performance? The Performing Rights Society in the UK certainly thinks so, which is why they’re suing. The repair firm, Kwik-Fit, has a pretty weak response, saying that it’s banned personal radios for ten years. Instead, it should be fighting back on the idea that this is a public performance in any way. Otherwise, you get into all sorts of trouble. If you have the windows open in your home and are listening to your legally owned music (or your TV!) and your neighbor can hear it, is that a public performance? What if you live in an apartment building with thin walls? What about when you’re driving with the radio on and the windows open? What if you’re in your cubicle and the folks in the cubicles around you can hear the music? At which point do we realize how silly this becomes? It’s difficult to see how, with a straight face, anyone in the music industry can claim that any of these situations represents harm done to them.

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Comments on “If You Play Your Radio Loud Enough For Your Neighbor To Hear, Is It Copyright Infringement?”

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Tao says:


They already do go after people for bands playing music that they didn’t write… they go after the business where it was played. Where I live an agent of the MPA (I think that was the acronym) came to town and documented what the bands were playing. Anything that wasn’t original material was put down as a violation and they “fined” the business owners where the band played the song. No shit. True story.

Here goes the common sense says:

Users of wireless equipment next

I bet it will not take much longer until the MAFIAA in the EU and US is going to sue people for transmitting shitty 99 cent music via wireless equipment. Just think about all those new wireless speakers, headsets and phones on the market, not to mention wireless access to remote harddisks etc.. Perhaps the MAFIAA is already studying GESTAPO manuals to figure out how to infiltrate your home.

Jason says:

Re: Doesn't matter much.

You read my mind completely. To go further I think that we should all stop buying any form of music for the next year. Besides everything that comes out either isn’t that good or copies something old anyway. I turn on the radio but always find myself going back to music I bought in the past.

So everyone just stop buying music in any form, for one year.

luvcnu says:

What Next

Once the Record Co’s have finished adding more single moms and kids to the welfare programs by taking away the little income they have for living expenses for sharing 24 songs maybe General Mills or Campbells Soup will begin suing moms for sharing recipes taken from the back of their product packages and preparing the recipe for dinner using a store brand product to substitute for the more expensive brand name product.

Give me a break – people have been purchasing items and sharing the use of the items since the beginning of time. At this rate, in a few years we will see all of the churches being sued for sharing the use of the Bible and its members being sued for quoting scripture and sharing information from the Bible with people that have not purchased a Bible for their own personal use.

Lead ’em own ole devil – lets see how crazy the legal system is in the US – it must be a joke to most of the world – We have confused the legal system with the lottery system.

Todd (user link) says:

Re: What Next

Excellent comment!

“…it must be a joke to most of the world – We have confused the legal system with the lottery system.”

Sadly the legal system has not been *confused* with the lottery. It has been turned in to a form there of… an unfortunately lucratively form of it with no signs of slowing down any time soon. Sucks.

Adam Garrett says:

In the US, the thing about restaurants has to do with BMI and I used to think that the number of speakers that are being used had some bearing. That seems to no longer be the case. Of course the way to void these things is to just play the radio. That way someone else is paying BMI.

As far as burning your own copy of a CD, I saw an interview with the president of RIAA and he said they weren’t concerned with that for personal use, though it still may violate the copyright.

The way to change all this is to support independent artists and encourage them to use licensing such as Creative Commons. If the artists are really concerned about their own Intellectual Property, then maybe they should show it by taking ownership of the process as well, as opposed to putting a bunch of pinhead bureaucrats in charge of it

Paul (profile) says:

My hammer

So, if I lend my friend my hammer, am I liable for not paying the designer a royalty on the design?

No, because the designer is not a greedy b***ard.

Performing Rights Society (UK) and the RIAA (USA) are just leeches living of the backs of the performers. They are doing more harm than good.

Fortunately there are signs that the new bands are moving away from the main stream model. Maybe in a few years the leeches will have no clients as the will all move away. I do hope so.

fishbane says:

From a strictly selfish perspective (and what else do we have today?), I wouldn’t mind this being enforced against the “broadcasters” in my neighborhood here in Brooklyn. I could do without the various base thumpery driving by, or some of the parties. (The reasonable ones are fine – I accept that urban environments make noise. Just don’t be a dick.)

I’d rather see civil resolution to this, of course, but nobody seems interested in that – there’s no money in it that hasn’t already been extracted.

Boris Jacobsen says:


Firstly, this is TOTALLY ridiculous.

Secondly, surely it could only hold up in court if it can be proved that these loud radios are attracting a crowd of people who are hanging around specifically to hear free music. Perhaps these people hanging around are also recording the music and selling it on or distributing over the internet. What evil people!

ddasedN (user link) says:

The Gods must be Laughing

This is ridiculous. And utmost absurd.

I think the recording artists should stop selling records to the public and record their songs for their own listening.

Regarding the incident this blog post mentions in the beginning, about infringement of copyright by mechanics who played their radios too loud, I can think of no more silly-er stuff that’s expected of the honchos sitting there to protect the intellectual rights of performers.

First of all, when it comes to radio, the radio station has already paid for the broadcast rights of the said content.

Second, how loud the customer plays the radio is completely his or her personal choice and the right lies on the customers’ own sweet will (unless ofcourse you are crossing the levels of noise-pollution in your jurisdiction).

Third, even if it’s a pre-recorded audio CD in place of radio, the customer must have the right to let any number of friends and relatives to share the content with. Why else did the customer pay for the original disc. He should better have gone for a pirated copy.

I feel it is unjust to expect the garage mechanics to get licenses for performing rights in this case since they do not receive any monetary benefit from the guys who happen to be outside listening to the piece of the music.

Another point of common sense is that, if I’m playing a radio loud enough for the people outside my house to hear, it could simply be that I have a hearing problem. Haha.

This issue is quite a nonsense. Not anything expected from those people at high places.

There still are many artists who barely make a living by selling music. And there are many who make a gigantic more than that. Come to think of it and you’ll find many many many instances where you have been made to pay for singles that are absolutely worthless. Did you run to sue a music company or an artist for selling those crap music? Did you have the right?

Yes, I agree with Adam, its time we actually start supporting independent artists. Shun the other recorded songs.


Dan says:

Sound of Silence

Simon and Garfunkle wrote the lyric “people writing songs that voices never share and no one dares disturb the sound of silence.”

pardon me for my blatant copyright infringement there but it seems rather prophetic with the way the music industry in particular is changing the way we percieve that we are allowed to enjoy music and other forms of art. The reason songs are written is to be sung, heard and enjoyed. If only the writer of a song is allowed to sing it, we lose the fundamental enjoyment of the music. If only those that the singer allows can listen, more is stripped away until all we have is silence.

I’m feeling profound now – boy let me tell you…

PVP says:

Hmmm, could this be the answer to my problems with noisy anti-social neighbours? The other night I could clearly hear the Eurythmics at 2am. Clearly a ‘public performance’ even if this particular member of the public didn’t want to hear it. How do I get the Performing Rights Society on the case?

Also, if you hum a tune to yourself, one you haven’t purchased, are you violating copyright? What if you just think it? If I run through lyrics in my head (of a song I haven’t bought) should I turn myself in?

think critically says:

If you are going to cite a bunch of examples such as an apartment with thin walls, you should make sure that example doesn’t leave out a key point.

The garage is a place of business, none of your examples are.
You should circumvent the argument that the business could be indirectly profiting from “entertaining” customers. It’s clear that that’s not the case here and this is just ridiculous litigation. But I think your examples should expose how silly that reasoning is.

John (profile) says:

Here's another idea

Suppose I get my car repaired at this shop. Then suppose that I hear some of the songs that are being played in the shop.
Suppose I then think it’s a great song and go buy the CD. Heck, I think it’s so good that I buy CD’s for my friends as well.

I bet if this scenario happened, the industry would be happy about this “public performance” and would be promoting how this free advertising leads to more sales.
Instead, they’re so focussed on the “now” that they can’t see any value in letting go of a few “free” items.

How long until radio itself is shut down because it’s a “public performance”? Yes, I know that radio stations pay to play the music (or whatever the arrangement is), but how long will it be until some RIAA exec gets the idea that these songs are being given away for free… and these “free songs” are hurting sales of CD’s?
Not likely, you say? Then again, who could have predicted that these people would sue a garage for playing songs too loudly?

Anonymous Coward says:

This got me thinking back to my college days…for several months, some guy five floors below me in the residence hall quite regularly played his stereo at full volume. The act of playing his music loud wasn’t so annoying; what he he was blasting was great to listen to but thoroughly unknown to me.

Suffice it to say I later learned what he was playing and subsequently bought the records/CDs. An otherwise inconsiderate act turned promotional. Take that, RIAA and your ilk!

Anonymous Coward says:

As of this week

In the US as of last week it apparently could be. A US judge ruled this week that just making copyrighted material available in a way that it could be copied is copyright infringement whether any copying actually takes place or not. So, by playing your radio loudly enough for someone else to hear it you would obviously also be making it possible for them to record it. Whether they actually do so no longer makes any difference, you are still liable for copyright infringement by making it available.

Artist with Rights says:


If you have the windows open in your home and are listening to your legally owned music (or your TV!) and your neighbor can hear it, is that a public performance?

Of course! Keep it to yourself, don’t help your neighbors steal. Why would your neighbors buy their own copy if they could just listen to yours?

What if you live in an apartment building with thin walls?

Same thing.

What about when you’re driving with the radio on and the windows open?

Same thing. In fact many places have recognized this threat to artists rights and have now made it illegal to play your car radio loudly enough to be heard so many feet from your car.

What if you’re in your cubicle and the folks in the cubicles around you can hear the music?

See above.

At which point do we realize how silly this becomes?

Silly? You think this is silly? Go ask Jammie Thomas how “silly” it is. She wasn’t smiling too much in the last picture I saw of her! (Ha ha, serves her right!)

It’s difficult to see how, with a straight face, anyone in the music industry can claim that any of these situations represents harm done to them.

Because people don’t buy what they can get for free dumbass. If that garage wants to entertain its customers with music while they wait they need to pay for a license so that the artists get paid, not just steal it off the radio.

GodKillzYou (user link) says:

Free Music

I’m trying to get a movement going to make music free. I know this sounds a little off, but just take a look at what I’ve been thinking.


and here.

Now, I know I’m no fantastic musician, and some people may even hate what I’ve done. But, I think my ideas make sense. This business with the RIAA and other media dictators has gotten far too out of hand. It’s time to stop this ridiculousness. None of it makes sense. The whole system is broken.

novernetsbandit says:

Napster anyone?

IRC, NAPSTER, MORPHIUS, BEARSHARE… Its old way but for some reason i see it all coming back with more power then ever before.. Thanks USA for creating software/music pirates and creating jobs for most of the people that post here. Oh wait my mirc just beeeped my download is done im gonna listen to this music now enjoy the rest of your day… Can they really sue everyone? last i checked over 1 million users on irc… over 2 billion files availble for download on morphius why is this still a story? its getting old it got old years ago.. let it go or move to a country that doesnt give a fu**.

LesterRay says:

Well, I finally stopped reading way up there and no one yet has said anything about that damned elevator music or shopping music in the mall. What the hell is this attorney thinking by saying radios were banned for ten years. If you get me then I am going to countersue for making me listen to all this shitty music and if I might go one step further, telephone music?

LesterRay says:

If I might be so bold as to mention one more thing, in regards to my own musings…I would be willing to bet that the elevator going up to the very court room for this hearing does this very thing…Attorney, take the judge, jury, and prosecutors out to the elevator to make your point, and watch the judge defend his right to hear a public performance on the elevator.

zcat says:

Re: elevator music

Elevator operators are expected to pay performance royalties to play that music. So do companies that have Music On Hold on their PABX. Usually the music is provided by a ‘muzac’ company that deals with the royalty payments, but chances are when you hear music in an elevator, department store or when you’re on hold on the telephone somebody has paid royalties to use it.

Wedding planners are also expected to pay performance royalties. It is considered a public performance after all.
Even when a band plays ‘covers’ at a club, the club has to pay for performance rights.

Is it fair? probably not.. but that’s how it works: http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/music-royalties4.htm

I you’re playing music at a public event or in a BUSINESS loud enough for your customers to hear it, you have to get permission from both the songwriter and performer, usually by paying some money to some agency that supposedly represents them. If you happen to know the songwriters and performers personally, you can skip dealing with the agents and come to some direct arrangement. Like perhaps give them a few free beers after the show.

Victor says:

Then they should really go after the radio makers because they allow the radio to go up that loud, this is just playing stupid to get money. Somebody somewhere is paying for it, if it isn’t the radio station then its a cd that somebody paid for. Performance of what?, there is only but a handful of people around that could hear it, isn’t there a defined amount of people to what is consider a crowd performance? This whole thing is stupid!!

Pissed Audiophile says:

Closely related to public performance...

If we look at this link:


We can understand where the so-called entertainment industry is going. That is to say, make the customer pay and pay and pay again for something he has been paying once to listen to and transfer over many means (Vynil, tape, 8-track). Originally the CD was also another such means, which is just an extension of fair use. Right? Wrong. Now any transfer is stealing and according to this yutz one is supposed to pay and pay and pay again for any copy over any means. This is baseless and stupid. For me, I’m not buying any music over any means for 360 days in protest. I suggest similar actions to send the following message: “any industry that believes its *paying* customers are thieves does _not_ deserve my business, nor will it have my business *ever* again”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Blame it on the ARTIST

How do they think I become interested in other types of music? How does the artist think I have ever heard of them, more less want to spend my money on a CD? Here’s how it works in my world; I am driving in my car and the car next to me has the music up soo loud, I turn mine down to see what they find so entertaining. If I like it, I do the radio scan to find it and to see who the artist is. If it’s a new artist, I do a search at home to find other music. If they have more than 3-5 songs I like on an CD, I will buy it. If not, I can wait for it to come back on the radio.
It would be much better if they all got together and created CD’s that had a combo of artist on it. For instance, we could have theme CD’s; Driving Music, Inspiring Music, Hate Music (or getting over a love), etc. For every mood there is or should be music out there to help people feel it and move on. These whiny artists need to stop being so damn self and start working with other artists to fix the problem; we don’t like an entire CD of the same hoo-humm music anymore. So, STOP MAKING THEM!

Newob (user link) says:

Call for an Amendment to copyright law!

Fascism, under the guise of protecting copyright, is gaining power exponentially in the United States. If we, the people, do not do something to stop it, corporate powers will dissolve all nations and make all people everywhere into wage slaves. One crucial step in this process – the corporate control of the internet – is coming to a head, but if we are smart we may be able to do something about it.

The recent court decision, that making audio recordings available to be copied is a form of unauthorized distribution whether or not anyone actually copies them, spells the end of the internet as we know it, if that decision is upheld in higher courts. Why? Because the internet potentially devalues audio recordings, and the artificial monopoly of audio recordings is one currency of the legal copyright cartel. If that decision stands in the Supreme Court, the internet will be shut down because the basis of the internet is the free sharing of data between computers. In its place will be a corporate power sharing system which excludes any unauthorized connections. That is the logical extension of the current legal threats to peer to peer sharing.

And why would this be perceived to be in the best interests of the copyright cartel? Because their copyrights are worthless if audio recordings are exchanged without paying them any money. Just as, the US dollar would be worthless if US citizens would exchange goods without paying the Federal Reserve any money. The value of the US dollar translates into the ability of the Federal Reserve to tax exchanges between US citizens and the value of audio recordings translates into the ability of the copyright cartel to tax copies of audio recordings.

We do not need to pay anything to copyright holders in order to make copies of music, nor do we need to pay the Federal Reserve in order to exchange goods. The belief that we must, is the basis of their power. But the Federal Reserve is not necessary for the government to print currency; and a copyright cartel is not necessary for original works to be valuable. We can make up money in our minds and we can make up audio recordings on computers. Neither one has any intrinsic value, only the value we attach to it socially, politically, psychically.

Copyright law permits a limited monopoly on original works; but the copyright cartel collects the rights to copy original works by buying them. They decide the value of their recordings, and eliminate any threat to that value, and absorb any competition to their monopoly. That system worked well for the copyright cartel while the means of recording audio remained largely in their ownership. But today the situation is changing because audio recordings can be made and copied using freely available technology, without paying the copyright cartel. If they are cut out of the loop then they are powerless, but they may yet be able to use their power to write themselves legally into the loop. That will happen if the Supreme Court upholds the decision, that making recordings available to copy regardless of whether they are copied is a violation of copyright. Then, the copyright cartel can authorize a private police force to enforce their law or just employ the US military. They will outlaw unauthorized connections to the internet and seize any computers used to make unauthorized connections.

But the Constitution allows a limited monopoly by the creators of original works to make copies, and that is not the same as a monopoly of the rights to make those copies. If we, the people, permit the copyright cartel to continue on its course then we are authorizing fascism, and this situation will follow its logical extension. The alternative is that we make a new Amendment to the US Constitution that explicitly forbids the legal transfer of copyrights and outlaws the monopoly of copyrights. The legal monopoly permitted by the constitution is the limited monopoly of original works. That is twisted by current law into meaning the unlimited monopoly of purchased rights. By the Constitution, rights cannot be purchased and are unalienable. Among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The new Amendment should explicitly add to that list the right to own and copy your own original works. All second-hand ownership and alienation of the right to own and copy original works should be obliterated.

The propaganda against the practice of sharing digital copies of recordings without exchanging money, alleges that creators and copyright holders cannot make money or continue creating if they are not paid for every copy. But sounds themselves are not audio recordings and pictures themselves are not video recordings. Long before modern recording technology was invented artists and inventors made money, for example by soliciting sponsors for their work. The internet is a valuable means of publicity and sponsorship. Musicians, filmmakers, other artists and inventors will not be put out of work by unauthorized distribution of their works. Rather, the wider their works are disseminated, the more publicity they have and the more opportunity for sponsorship.

Once upon a time, an original work could be hijacked by changing its name and attribution. Before modern technology, to make a copy meant the same thing as taking credit for its creation. An unauthorized copy could take the place of the original by making the original more obscure. But plagiarism is a threat to the livelihood of an author only if the counterfeit copy can be passed off as the original and the pirate can be passed off as the author. Today the original work does not become more obscure than the copy; the copy and the original coexist with one another. The internet permits multiple methods of checking attribution and determining the origin of a copyrighted work. Therefore copy control is not necessary to fight plagiarism.

On the other hand, the copyright cartel operates by taking credit for the creations of others, and that is the very definition of piracy. The music labels print their names on the works of others that they distribute and that is a form of counterfeit. They buy the right to own somebody else’s work and pass it off as their own, and that is a form of plagiarism. Under the current system, the cost of copying and distributing is often exchanged for the right to own the work, so authors no longer control their creations. But over the internet, copying and distributing no longer costs anything. Copying no longer necessarily means taking credit for a work.

Curiously, taking credit itself has come to be accepted as a form of work. But the work of taking credit is worthless if copying costs nothing. There is no motivation to plagiarize if the attribution of a copy cannot be changed. There is no such thing as counterfeit if copies have no value besides publicity for the original.

Today, corporations are abolishing national sovereignty by buying people’s rights. Banks are buying the right to print currency. Copyright cartels are buying the right to own original works. Medical associations are buying the right to practice medicine. News organizations are buying the right to freedom of speech. If this keeps going, soon there will be no nations, only corporations. The United States will be ruled by the corporations, for the corporations, and of the corporations. Freedom will be a trademark of Democracy, Incorporated.

The internet is not just the connections between computers, it is the connections between people through those computers. As long as corporations manufacture the computers, they exercise great control over the internet. But they do not yet completely control how we use the internet. The internet is the only worldwide forum capable of democracy, and it holds the potential to unite the people of the world and preserve their freedom to associate and exchange information freely. But if corporate powers take control of the internet under the guise of protecting copyright, we will no longer have freedom of speech or the freedom to associate. The people of the world need to take ownership of their own works away from corporations and make themselves the owners of the internet.

Thought itself is at stake here, because the technology to share data is the technology to share our thoughts. Ideas, like flames, can be copied without diminishing the original and without replacing the original. But like flames, ideas can die out without any medium to burn. Our lives are a net of shared beliefs and activities centered around those beliefs. If we wish to remain in control of our lives and not become slaves even moreso than we are today, we must be able to control our own minds. Words, thoughts, and culture must be free to share without commercial interruption.

Please forward this message widely.

siri says:

loud music

you are all missing the point. The music was so loud it was disturbing the people next door. Perhaps the mechanics had been asked to turn it down and did not. We are fortunate in that we have the right to listen to whatever type of music we enjoy but WE DO NOT have the right to force others to listen to what we enjoy. Just turn it down or get some wireless headphones. Respect other people’s space and do not intrude into their lives with your noise. I am sure they will be thankful and leave you alone.

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