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WSJ: Aussie Gyms Only Play Covers - Original Songs Too Expensive

Ever been to the gym and a song comes on to pump you up? Well, Australian fitness instructor Michael Montgomery tried to motivate four dozen exercisers through a cardio routine of lunges and jumping jacks to a popular Britney Spears tune.

Gimme gimme more, gimme more, gimme gimme more," rang the lyrics of the 2007 song, which is called "Gimme More." Although the words were the same, they weren't sung by Britney, but by a soundalike cover artist identified as Mandy Brewer.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The song is one of scores of cover songs played by the outlet of the international Fitness First chain in response to new tariffs Australian gyms must pay if they play original, copyrighted recordings in classes.

In a ruling this week, the Copyright Tribunal of Australia ruled that music is essential to fitness classes, and artists should be paid accordingly. The tribunal raised tariffs for playing original artists' recordings to roughly 85 cents (A$1) per class participant—capped at about $13 per class—boosting the annual tab for the typical Australian fitness center from around $1,300 to more than $19,000.

It is being hailed as a victory for musicians by the record-industry funded Phonographic Performance Co. of Australia, which represents Sony Music, EMI, Universal and Warner in Australia and launched the case nearly five years ago. The PPCA recently won increased payments from nightclubs, too, and says it is now looking into proposing original-music tariffs for shopping malls and funeral parlors. But gyms say they will fight back. Fitness First's Australian outlets had already started playing cover versions that aren't subject to performer royalties. Others are expected to follow.

"It's a total drag," said a member of Mr. Montgomery's class. "Covers are cheesy. Especially if you're used to hearing a song in a particular way." This exerciser identified himself simply as Billy because, he explained, he didn't want to publicize his secret: "I love Britney."

The tribunal's decision is expected to be watched internationally by record companies struggling to make up for piracy and lagging CD sales. Canada's copyright hearings board is considering a similar industry proposal to raise tariffs for music used in dance and fitness classes. U.K. rights organization PRS for Music, meanwhile, says it has stepped up its efforts to collect fees from gyms, as well as from restaurants and offices.

The fitness industry says the charges are too steep, particularly in hard economic times. Gyms also accuse record companies of exacerbating the obesity crisis with excessive demands for compensation: Around 68% of Australian men and 55% of women are either overweight or obese, according to the latest available official data.

Peter Stirling Benson, managing director of Fitness First in Australia, says the country's recording industry "shot themselves in the foot." The world's largest privately owned health club group, with 1.4 million members across Europe, the U.K., Asia, Australia and the Middle East, Fitness First began phasing out original music from its 93 Australian clubs late last year. It plans to play covers exclusively, beginning in late June."

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