By Kim Dong-uk
We hear music all around us in our everyday lives. There is music, not played directly by us, in all sorts of public places such as shopping malls, cafes, restaurants, clothing stores and gyms, and we recognize it as a normal part of our social environment. However, is this music played legally? Many people don’t know, not even the business owners who play the music.
Until now, many businesses have played music on their premises by paying for a subscription to a music streaming service on platforms such as Melon or Bugs Music. For this reason, they have considered the playing of music in their establishments as a legal activity, because they are paying for it. However, this action is in fact illegal under the Copyright Act of Korea, because a subscription to a streaming service only gives one the right to play the music for personal use, not in public. Many people ask what the big difference between personal and public use is, because both of them are just playing music. Nevertheless, the Copyright Act has provisions for public performance, because the range of people who can listen to the music is much broader than when it is played for personal use, so that its actual monetary value is different.
In the past, the legal subjects obliged to pay an additional licensing fee for public performance of music were limited to department stores, big shopping malls and bars. Under the recently amended Enforcement Decree of the Copyright Act, cafes, restaurants, stores and sports facilities that exceed 50 square meters in size should pay a public broadcasting licensing fee as of Aug. 23, 2018. Scanning comments on the internet, many people feel unhappy with this new policy, caused by a misunderstanding of who must pay licensing fees, or a lack of understanding of public performance licenses as laid out in the Copyright Act.
Most people do not need to worry about public performance licensing fees, because these are payable by business owners who play music on their premises, not the people who listen to the music. Also, charging an additional fee for public performances is not a duplicate payment, because a streaming service subscription only entitles users to play music for personal enjoyment. In addition, the criticism that the policy burdens small business owners too much is incorrect because they are not charged for public performance if their premises are smaller than 50 square meters.
Nevertheless, the reason many people feel uncomfortable with the public performance licensing fees is not just based on the lack of understanding of public performance rights, but on the lack of awareness of copyright law. Many Koreans have lacked an awareness of the intangible value of intellectual property, and do not respect the value of creative activity. Also, many people have learned how to download creative works such as movies, music and pictures free of charge from the internet, which has exacerbated the lack of awareness of copyright.
I hope people consider copyright as the valuable property of creators, as the public performance licensing fee become an established presence in our lives.
Tech & Comms team
The thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and do not necessarily reflect those of HMP Law.