Gyms fight to keep music playing

By John Drinnan

The record industry wants a lot more money from fitness clubs and aerobics classes to help make up for the big drop in sales resulting from the illegal downloading of music. Photo / Kenny Rodger
The record industry wants a lot more money from fitness clubs and aerobics classes to help make up for the big drop in sales resulting from the illegal downloading of music. Photo / Kenny Rodger

New Zealand fitness clubs are up in arms over a feared 40-fold increase in copyright charges for music at aerobics lessons and other fitness classes.

Record industry body Phonographic Performances Company of Australia (PPCA) is demanding big increases in fees across the Tasman for playing music you can sweat to.

And Fitness New Zealand chief executive Richard Beddie says he has "absolutely no doubt" that if the PPCA claims are approved by the Australian Copyright Tribunal, they will be copied here.

Some of the New Zealand industry - mostly made up of small independent operators - would go to the wall, he said.

YMCA Auckland general manager of fitness Jo Clark said the prospect of a big fee rise was a "huge issue for fitness clubs".

Fitness New Zealand, which represents about 275 fitness centres - 75 per cent of the industry - said the PPCA's proposal amounted to a 4000 per cent rise.

It was the biggest challenge fitness clubs faced, said Mr Beddie.

In a group experience, quality music was important, he said, and that was why record companies were targeting fitness clubs.

But the increases the PPCA was seeking in Australia were far too high and would kill off some clubs if implemented here.

Phonographic Performances NZ spokesman Quentin Reade said assumptions that the fees here would go up if Australia's rose were "erroneous".

"There are more than 40 similar industry bodies around the world, and the PPNZ looks at best practice."

He said the bodies were "wholly independent of one another and operate under different economic circumstances".

But Mr Beddie said he had tried to speak with the New Zealand copyright body and suggest alternative and increased payments, but it was not prepared to discuss the matter.

He said the bodies represented the same big multinational record companies. He had no doubt that if the Australian claims went through, they would be applied here.

Mr Beddie said Australia was seen as a test case. New Zealand clubs had contributed "tens of thousands of dollars" to help Fitness Australia to fight the PPCA plan, he said.

United States fitness clubs were also helping the Australians financially.

Mr Beddie said aerobics and fitness clubs were currently charged about $1 a session.

Under the Australian proposal, the fee would rise to $4.50 a member a month.

"For some, copyright would amount to 10 per cent of their costs," said Mr Beddie.

The move is part of a big push by record companies to get more from businesses that use music to make money.

The revenue is to help make up for a massive collapse in sales as a result of illegal downloading of music.

On Saturday, the Herald reported that the NZ copyright body had hired a private detective to watch an Auckland designer playing music on an MP3 player in his showroom.

PPNZ is also awaiting a New Zealand Copyright Tribunal decision on its claim for an increase in the rates that radio stations pay each time they play a song.

The record industry led the row over Section 92A of the Copyright Act, which would have allowed internet service providers to close the accounts of people accused of illegal downloads.

On top of the PPNZ charge paid to record companies and artists, the Australasian Performing Right Association (Apra) represents people who write music, and charges a fee of 51 cents per aerobics session.

Mr Beddie said Apra was more willing than PPNZ to talk about and come up with solutions.

But he said Apra was under pressure to ensure that writers were not rewarded at a significantly lower rate than performers and it would end up applying increases.

Apra's head of NZ operations, Anthony Healy, said PPNZ had a right to work for the interests of its members and had done that well.

He said that in this country the Copyright Tribunal judged the value of material.

However, he distanced Apra from the PPCA move, saying it appeared to be asking too much.

"You would have to say that some of the charges claimed by the PPCA are on the face of it unreasonable."

- NZ Herald

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