Brussels says UK must face the muzak in court

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The Independent Online

Piped music became the cause of a new battle between Britain and the European Commission yesterday when the Government was told to ensure that performers are paid royalties for "ambient music" in lifts, supermarkets, restaurants, shopping centres and other public places.

The Commission said it intended to take Britain to the EU's highest court for failing to defend the right of musicians to be paid when their music was heard in public. If Brussels wins its case it could mean a hefty bill for shop owners or usher in a new, music-free era in the high street.

The case, which dates back to 1997, will now go to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which could take up to two years to produce a judgment. Brussels has already issued two official warnings but the Government disputes its interpretation of the rules.

The European Commission argues that a directive, agreed by member states in November 1992, ensures that charges should be levied on all occasions when music is broadcast, and that Britain has failed to implement the regulations fully.

The Government maintains that, under its interpretation of the rules, no royalties are due if the music is being piped to a public place to which no entry fee has been charged.

But the European Commission has already fought a battle with the Americans to ensure royalties are paid to performers in similar circumstances, winning over a World Trade Organisation panel in the process.

A spokesman for Fritz Bolkestein, European commissioner for the internal market, said: "As far as [we] are concerned, if 14 member states and the WTO agree with our interpretation of the rules, I don't see why the UK should not."