In China, musicians are used to getting ripped off by pirates. But when the org entrusted to collect copyright fees gets in on the act, the results can be cause to sing the blues.

Tens of thousands of karaoke bars and other outlets in China have finally started to ante up for the privilege of playing music. But artists and publishers have yet to receive a single yuan.

Karaoke is probably the biggest leisure pursuit in the country after ping-pong, but for years the operators simply played the tunes without paying for the privilege.

Enter the China Audio-Video Copyright Assn., set up in 2007 to collect copyright fees, which it began doing in 2008. The org considers karaoke singers to be performers, and so fees must be hammered out in accordance with record company contracts.

Beleaguered musicians welcomed the effort, albeit with a degree of skepticism.

The org, which has collected 80 million yuan ($11.8 million), now says there is no money to distribute; high startup costs and its 50% management fee had sucked up all the profit.

Blogged pop composer Wu Xiangfei, who wrote “The Road Has Always Been There” for Eason Chan and “Spring Subway” for Yu Quan: “I have never authorized CAVCA to collect (karaoke) royalties. And my friends also have not given authorization. Who gave this group such power?”

It seems that in China, the singer may have changed, but the song remains the same.