Row over Lunar New Year tunes heats up


Row over Lunar New Year tunes heats up
30 Jan 2007
Koh Lay Chin and David Yeow

KUALA LUMPUR: A storm brewing for years over the right to play Chinese New Year tunes in public areas is about to boil over.

A scathing war of words is raging between MCA Youth together with owners of commercial outlets on one side and a very annoyed Public Performance Malaysia Sdn Bhd on the other.

PPM has been lambasted for allegedly collecting royalties for traditional new year songs such as Gong Xi Fa Cai (Happy Chinese New Year) and Huan Le Nian Nian (Be Happy Every Year) from even small outlets like barbershops and coffeeshops.

The PPM is saying there is no such category for that collection, and that there has not been a single complaint lodged by these businesses with the Copyright Tribunals disputing their rates.

Public outlets run foul of the law if they do not pay fees to two parties in charge of royalty fee collection PPM (on behalf of the recording companies) and the Music Authors Copyright Protection (MACP) Berhad, which collects on behalf of music authors like composers and lyricists.

But the owners of smaller outlets have been furious with the method of royalty payments.

They claim that it lacks transparency and accountability, and there is no logic for payment for such traditional songs meant to add to festive cheer.

Also joining the fray is MCA Youth, which has received “thousands of complaints over the years” and is fed up with what seems like a “scam-like” operation to collect millions, its secretary-general Wee Ka Siong said.

He said MCA Youth was not against the legal framework meant to protect copyright laws or stem the music piracy problem, but that the logic of collecting payments from even electrical stores whose television was playing these songs was something that had to be redressed.

"It is really a grey area with regard to the interpretation of the law, and it is high time we streamline the law as the word public has a very wide meaning.

“Imagine asking RM600 to RM1,000 a year from coffeeshops just to play these songs it is ridiculous.”

He said the wing was unhappy with the way PPM officers had conducted themselves in this matter, claiming they were arrogant and had tried to provoke the owners by saying if they had a problem with the payment, “blame the government for having this law”.

The issue has been played up in Chinese dailies recently with Chinese New Year approaching.

A peaceful protest, led by Federal Territories MCA Youth chief Hang Chin Pheng and joined by various small business owners, was held at a seafood restaurant in Wangsa Maju over the weekend.

The song Gong Xi Fa Chai was played to lure PPM officers out for an open debate on the issue and harsh words were used.

But PPM refuses to take these allegations lying down.

Its chief executive officer, Tan Ngiap Foo, said he was at a loss as to why the youth wing had repeatedly attacked their company alone and not the MACP, which were the ones joined by Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry officers during their checks on outlets.

"We do not even have a separate category of Chinese New Year song licences, there is no distinction!

“We issue an annual licence where they can play all the songs by our members as many times as they want, and over the past eight years, no one has ever lodged a complaint about the rates,” he said, adding that the rates could range from RM100 per year for a tourist bus to RM27,000 for a karaoke lounge.

He said he felt it was a personal attack aimed at gaining political mileage, and that PPM had even met small businesses and the association of coffeeshop owners in the past to tell them they could apply for an exemption if they had any problems.

With regard to the issue of the collection of payments which seemed dubious, Tan said he had lodged a complaint with the ministry and was waiting for a reply to clear the air.

“The copyright laws were passed in Parliament in 1987, so if there is a problem, amendments can be made by the politicians themselves, but this is not done. So now they are protesting, saying the law is stupid.”

No wonder I keep hearing them put out crappy techno CNY songs instead.

Paying royalties to play traditional festive music has got to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, and definitely sounds like it has “scam” written all over it.

Let’s all cut the festive mood and listen to the sounds of… whistling wind and tumble weeds rolling by.