Good tidings we bring...
However, I think you'll be surprised at how I'm going to take something like this. First, you'll need to read the article, then come back here. [Go ahead. I'll wait.]
BoingBoing is, by far, the worst offender, but the Interweb At Large simply doesn't understand what performing rights societies are all about. To most of the self-styled intelligentsia, ASCAP == RIAA. This is fueled by various reports you see that read like the following: "John Doe has a really cool little store, that sells cool things we like, and he recently got a visit from [performing rights society], saying that since he plays cool music in his cool store, thus contributing to the overall vibe of coolness, he has to cough up $300 a year or some such. The OUTRAGE!!!"
I'll explain it in simple terms for those of you (and I'm talking to you, Cory Doctorow) that don't have the faintest idea what the fuck you're talking about. It's like this: I'm a musician that (barely) eeks out a living writing songs. It is a proven fact that people buy more shit in a store if there's music playing. They're playing my music so people will buy more shit in the store. Their profits go up as a result. I am (justly) entitled to a piece of that, because I helped sell more cheap-ass Chinese clothing.
That, in a nutshell, is what performance rights societies are all about. They make sure that if music is used to sell a product, the musician gets a piece of the action. Nightclubs bitch the most about this, because they have to pay the largest licenses. But you have to realize that a nightclub is simply a fiscal mechanism for turning beer in to money. It has nothing to do with music at all. Customers come to hear the music, and during the course of this, buy beer. In almost every nightclub in the country, the entertainment, be it Superstar DJ Blowme or Bob's Local Cover Band, is a loss-leader for the alcohol sales.
Which brings us to this fellow. (Or bloke, rather. He is British, after all.) Now, if there was a loophole by which a store that sold musical instruments didn't have to pay a license, well, then all Wal-Mart would have to do would be to have a musical instrument section. Sorry, dude, but it's for the greater good. Pay your fucking hundred and fifty quid, and get off your high horse.