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$185,000 fine for Melbourne business underlines need for understanding of licences to play music in public

$185,000 fine for Melbourne business underlines need for understanding of licences to play music in public
October 6, 2018

The owner of a Melbourne bar has been ordered to pay almost $200,000 in damages for playing music without paying the proper licence fees.

The Federal Court judgement against the Hairy Little Sista and its owner underlines the need for all businesses playing copyright music to have the appropriate licences from APRA AMCOS - which collects royalties on behalf of songwriters, composers and music publishers - and the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia Limited (PPCA) - which collects royalties on behalf of record companies and musicians.

All business - including cafes, bars, nightclubs, gyms, spas and venues - must pay for using an artist's work in their establishment.

Kristine Becker and her company were found to have infringed copyright by not obtaining a licence to play music, at two CBD bars - Hairy Little Sista on Little Collins Street and the nearby Hairy Canary.

In a judgement handed down in the Federal Circuit Court last month, Judge Julia Baird found Becker had acted with "disregard" for the rights of the musicians, having "ignored" numerous attempts by the PPCA to contact her.

The Court ordered 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 music until such time as she pays licencing fees.

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.

Judge Baird was eventually satisfied Becker actually knew she was being sued, and made a ruling on the spot after deciding 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 (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'."

The judge said Becker and 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.

Judge Baird added "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."

Becker did submit an application for a licence to play music in February 2014, according to the judgement, but "the negotiation stalled".

Media reports also suggest that Hairy Little Sista is also caught up in claims of underpayment of wages, with an ABC report from earlier this year alleging a long history of underpaying multiple staff,

Jess Walsh, the Victorian Secretary of United Voice, said Hairy Little Sista was one of the worst cases of underpayment they have come across.

In June, Walsh told the ABC "we have met people who are earning as little as $17 an hour cash in hand, working weekends and getting no weekend rates, not being paid their super.

"We have even met people who have not been paid at all for weeks and months on end."

APRA AMCOS and PPCA to combine as One Music
From the middle of 2019, APRA AMCOS and PPCA are combining to offer a single public performance licensing system under the name OneMusic Australia.

The merged initiative aims to offer what APRA AMCOS say will be "a big improvement to obtaining and managing a licence to use music."

APRA AMCOS also state that "red tape will be drastically cut making it easier for most businesses to renew their licence for using our music.

"From mid next year OneMusic will launch as a music licence one-stop-shop with online transactions making the process even simpler, which means that for the overwhelming majority of businesses there will be: 

• One licence scheme 
• One renewal date 
• Once-a-year music use reporting, to one organisation 
• One payment online"

Currently OneMusic Australia is liaising with industry associations and individual licensees on proposals for almost every industry sector on licence arrangements for their sector.

Among peak bodies, Fitness Australia has shared a considerable amount of information on its ongoing negotiations with its industry response committee having engaged in close discussions with APRA AMCOS and PPCA representatives.

Click here for more information on OneMusic Australia.

Images: The Hairy Little Sista bar is on Little Collins Street in Melbourne's CBD (top, courtesy of Instagram: @hairylilsista) and owner Kristine Becker (middle, courtesy of

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