Several retailers have already received letters requesting that they either cough up or turn the music off.
PRS for Music, one of the organizations responsible for collecting fees and royalties for recording artists in the UK, has started to target game retailers' demo units. PRS claims that if a unit runs a demo that uses licensed music, then it counts as a public performance and the store needs a license.
A number of independent retailers have reported receiving letters from PRS demanding that they pay for the music that their demo units play. The cost for a license is between £140 and £465, depending on the size of the retailer, although as the music is part of a demonstration, it does qualify for a 30% discount.
PRS' head of corporate communications, Barney Hooper, said that with a proper license, retailers would be able to play whatever music they liked, whether from a demo unit, or some other source like a CD or a radio. If retailers didn't want to get a license, or couldn't afford one, Hooper suggested that they mute the sound on their demo units, so that there was no music to worry about. Hooper admitted, however, that it would be tricky to properly monitor the situation.
Demo units aren't a new idea, and it seems a little strange that PRS is only just noticing that music comes out of them. That's not to say that PRS is doing anything it shouldn't be; as Hooper said, it's not an easy situation to monitor, and many of the larger retail chains will likely already have licenses.
This could be another blow to independent retailers in the UK, who are already struggling to compete against retail chains and supermarkets. If this is something that is enforceable by PRS - which is not guaranteed, as the organization has made mistakes in the past - then it makes demo units less attractive, either because they suddenly cost a lot more, or because they have to sit in silence. It's not the sort of thing that's going to bring a store down by itself, but it certainly doesn't help the smaller operators compete.