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UK pursuing bilateral solution to visa deadlock

The British government is negotiating on a bilateral basis with individual EU countries in a bid to break the deadlock over the issue of visas for touring artists, culture minister Diana Barran said today.

Taking questions in the House of Lords on 20 January, the Baroness Barran, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, told peers that while the UK’s previous offer to the EU to reopen negotiations on exempting musicians “still stands”, the government is also seeking “simplification and clarification on a bilateral basis with individual member states.”

Barran’s disclosure that Britain is shifting its attention to individual countries can be seen as a ‘plan B’ for performers in the absence of an EU-wide deal. As legal expert George Peretz explains, UK artists who want to tour the EU (excluding the Republic of Ireland, where the Common Travel Area already allows free travel) currently face “26 different sets of rules” – one for each member state – instead of one, as such an arrangement was not included in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Why that is is different depending on who you ask: European negotiators claim the UK turned down an offer from the EU of a 90-day visa-free period every 180 days, while British officials continue to insist EU inflexibility resulted in no deal for musicians.

UK artists currently face “26 different sets of rules”

In response to a question from the Lord McNally, in which McNally accused “Brexit zealots” of torpedoing any possibility of an agreement on freedom of movement “to protect the purity” of the UK’s hard break, Barran insisted British negotiators “tried very hard to stand up for Britain’s brilliant cultural and creative sectors, and reflect their requests to us about what they needed from the deal”.

The back and forth in the Lords came as industry leaders met with the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden, to discuss the other obstacles thrown up by the deal, including cabotage, work permits, ATA carnets for touring orchestras, and VAT and administration charges on physical products shipped from the UK to the EU.

Elsewhere, British stars including Ed Sheeran, Sir Elton John, Sting, Liam Gallagher and the Who’s Brexit-voting Roger Daltrey put their names to a letter in today (20 January)’s Times to warn that the ongoing “negotiating failure” threatens the future of cultural exchange between the UK and the continent.

The letter, which was organised by the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats party, urges the UK government to “do what it said it would do” and negotiate visa-free travel to Europe for British artists and their equipment.

The stars also address the EU, asking that any deal be made reciprocal (for EU visitors to the UK).

“We are determined to give those talented people the clarity they need”

An Excel spreadsheet created by the European Commission at the tail end of 2020 attempts to outline the current situation for British musicians, analysing which EU countries require work permits for artists and which don’t. (However, “[t]he blanks and footnotes suggest that anyone really wanting certainty will need good legal advice from the country concerned,” writes Peretz.)

Wherever blame lies for the current impasse, UK ministers insist they will heed the growing calls to provide clarity for artists and the broader live music industry, with another culture minister – Caroline Dinenage, minister of state for digital and culture – reiterating in the Commons yesterday that the UK’s “door is open” for discussions on resolving the issue.

Echoing her sentiments today, Barran claimed that while UK negotiators “did everything in their power to avoid the current situation”, the government is now is now looking ahead in order to secure a “simple and straightforward” deal for live entertainers.

“We are incredibly disappointed that the EU neither proposed, nor accepted, a tailored deal for musicians,” she said, “and we are determined to give those talented people the clarity they need to survive.”


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MPs, UK industry make fresh call for govt-backed insurance

The British parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee has written to the chancellor of the exchequer to ask for a government-backed insurance scheme for concerts and festivals, or risk “a summer without festivals”.

In the letter to Rishi Sunak, the cross-party group of members of parliament warn that festival organisers and investors are unable to risk the repeating losses they sustained in 2020 unless events can be insured against cancellation. According to the committee, the commercial insurance market is not expected to offer Covid-19 cancellation cover until at least 2022.

To save the festival summer, the MPs, backed by 40 industry associations including industry umbrella groups LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) and UK Music, are urging government to extend existing underwriting schemes, such as the £500 million fund set up for the film and television sector, to “other creative industries”, including live music, to give festival operators the ability to get on with organising their events.

Julian Knight MP, chair of the DCMS Committee, comments: “The government is telling us that life should be getting back to normal by the summer, but unless it can provide a safety net it will be a summer without festivals. The industry says that without government-backed insurance, many festivals and live music events just won’t happen because organisers can’t risk getting their fingers burnt for a second year.

“The committee has heard from festival organisers that this is a matter of urgency. Insurance must be the first step in unlocking the huge contribution that festivals make to our economy, protecting not only the supply chains but the musicians who rely on them for work.

“Without a government-backed insurance scheme it will be impossible to get festivals back this summer”

“The government already offers a level of cover to the film and television industries; now is the time to extend support to other creative industries or risk losing some of our best loved and world-renowned festivals.”

Tim Thornhill, director of entertainment and port at Tysers Insurance Brokers, is similarly supportive. He says: “It has been estimated that over 40% of the insurer losses at Lloyd’s of London relating to coronavirus were as a result of event cancellation claims, which far outweighs the proportion of premium.

“Now is the time for the Treasury and other departments to proactively engage with insurance brokers and the live sector itself to come up with a solution.”

“We wholeheartedly support the DCMS Committee’s letter to the prime minster and chancellor calling on them to support UK festivals before it is too late,” says Greg Parmley, CEO of LIVE. “Our festivals are the envy of the world, contributing £1.76 billion to the economy and supporting 85,000 jobs every year.

“Without a government-backed insurance scheme it will be impossible to get festivals back this summer, as the months of planning and preparation it takes to create these culturally significant events means that decisions need be made now. We are grateful for the DCMS Committee for understanding the urgency of this issue, for listening to the sector and supporting our calls for further support.

Government-backed insurance funds for events are already in place in Austria and Germany, with the Netherlands also considering whether to adopt a similar scheme.


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Festivals sound alarm over ‘silent killer’ CO

A parliamentary session attended by Festival Republic and the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), which between them represent the majority of the UK’s music festivals, agreed on the need to distribute safety information highlighting the dangers posed carbon monoxide (CO).

A meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) on Tuesday 5 March brought together Festival Republic – the Live Nation-owned operator of festivals including Download, Wireless and Reading/Leeds – the AIF, which represents 60+ indies, along with campaign groups and energy industry representatives, to discuss how they can protect festivalgoers from the dangers of CO poisoning.

CO is an invisible, odourless and tasteless toxic gas produced when carbon-containing fuels burn incompletely. According to the APPCOG, this ‘silent killer’ causes approximately 30 deaths and 200 hospital admissions in England and Wales each year, and high-level exposure can result in coma and death in minutes. Other symptoms of CO poisoning can include headaches, nausea, seizures, paralysis, feeling ‘fluey’, memory loss and changes in mood.

The APPCOG’s research shows that many festivalgoers are unaware that both lit and extinguished barbecues can produce large amounts of deadly carbon monoxide gas, and 49% say say they would use a BBQ inside their tent. This behaviour is unsafe because the CO produced by barbecues isn’t ventilated in confined spaces and builds up to higher concentrations.

Festivalgoers, say MPs, may also be unaware of CO’s symptoms, which can be can easily be confused for a hangover and lead to people not seeking treatment. To address this, the APPCOG recommends a multi-pronged strategy that both reduces the risk of exposure and raises awareness of CO poisoning amongst festivalgoers.

Promoters should utilise a multimedia approach, including advertising on mobile and displaying CO info on festival apps

As direct interventions on festival sites are vital in reducing the risk CO poses to festivalgoers’ health, the APPCOG encourages festival promoters to train their staff on the risk factors and symptoms of CO poisoning. This would enable staff to provide festivalgoers with advice on how to stay safe, and to intervene when they spot behaviours that increase the risk of CO exposure.

The parliamentary group also called on manufacturers to display more prominent safety warnings on disposable BBQ packaging, in order to prevent festivalgoers from taking barbecues inside tents and putting their lives at risk.

For festivals, the meeting agreed on the need for a “collaborative effort between festival providers and campaign groups to collate and distribute safety information that raises awareness of CO poisoning and stops dangerous behaviours”.

This information, the APPCOG recommended, should utilise a multimedia approach to reach patrons, including advertising on mobile phones, displaying CO information on festival apps and using high-profile partners such as bands to engage festivalgoers.

The parliamentary discussion was chaired by APPCOG officer Alex Cunningham MP, and is part of the APPCOG’s larger efforts to raise awareness of CO poisoning and reduce deaths and injuries, as outlined in the 2015 report Carbon Monoxide: From Awareness to Action.


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UK parliament announces new live music biz inquiry

The British parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, is to launch a fresh inquiry into the UK live music business, focusing particularly on secondary ticketing and the declining number of small music venues.

The new investigation replaces the committee’s previous inquiry into ‘ticket abuse’, which was cut short by the snap general election of June 2017, and will once again invite secondary ticketing companies – including previous prominent no-show Viagogo – to contribute evidence.

“This inquiry will be an opportunity for the committee to revisit the important issue of secondary ticket selling,” explains DCMS Committee chair Damian Collins MP (pictured). “We want to hear from the public about their direct experiences with this issue and what they think can be done to tackle it.

“We’ll also investigate what problems many small music venues face, as they struggle to keep their doors open despite the unwavering enthusiasm from the British public for live music.

“The committee also welcomes the government’s announcement [on 18 January] that the agent-of-change principle will form part of the National Planning Policy Framework for housing. As part of this new inquiry, we’ll be exploring other ways in which the government can support upcoming artists and grassroots venues that form such a crucial part of the music scene in the UK.”

“We want to hear from the public about their direct experiences”

Per DCMS, written evidence is invited in the following areas:

Evidence can be submitted via this link on the committee’s website until 17.00 on 28 February 2018.


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Music legends turn out for agent of change

British artists, politicians and senior music industry figures headed to Westminster this morning in support of John Spellar MP’s bill to enshrine the agent-of-change principle in UK law.

The proposed legislation, announced at Venues Day last October, would require property developers to take into account pre-existing businesses, like music venues, before proceeding with a project, and is backed as a crucial weapon in the fight against venue closures by industry groups such as Music Venue Trust, UK Music and the Musicians’ Union.

The Planning (Agent of Change) Bill has the backing of at least 75 MPs and peers, including former culture minister Ed Vaizey, as well as artists including Sir Paul McCartney, Ray Davies, Glen Matlock, Chrissie Hynde, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Billy Bragg, Craig David, Feargal Sharkey and Brian Eno.

“So many of the bottom rungs of the ladder have been taken away”

Speaking to IQ before the bill’s first reading in parliament today, Mason said he is backing the Spellar bill to protect venues as a lifeline for “young musicians in the 21st century”. “It’s a much tougher environment now than it ever was,” he explained. “So many of the bottom rungs of the ladder have been taken away … it’s important for young people to feel like they could have a career in music if they wanted it.”

J. Willgoose, Esq., one third of Public Service Broadcasting, said it’s important artists who have graduated on from grassroots venues don’t “pull up the ladder behind us”. “We were the beneficiaries of being one of the last generations of musicians who had a fertile, up-and-coming pub and club scene, which we benefited from enormously,” he said.

“If you look at some of the venues we played in early days, and how many of them have now closed, especially in London, it’s a frighteningly high percentage.”

“Moving to a city then complaining about the noise from venues is like moving to the country and complaining about the smell of cow muck”

Bragg told IQ that while agent of change won’t tackle the symptoms of the problems facing music venues – chiefly low interest rates making home ownership the only way to make a solid return on investment, leading to a boom in development – it is “going to put the onus on properly developments to recognise that they’re building in an area which is a cultural hub, and that’s really, really important”. (He joked that moving to a city then complaining about the noise from venues is like “moving to the country and complaining about the smell of cow muck”.)

UK Music chief executive praised the “great turnout” for the pre-bill reading photocall, opposite the houses of parliament, and said he hopes ministers will “listen to the strength of feeling from grassroots campaigners, communities from up and down the country, artists, songwriters and MPs from all parties. It’s time now to back the act and make that change that we need.”

The bill was well received by a majority of MPs – or, in parliamentary jargon, the ayes had it – and will proceed to its second reading on 19 January. Spellar’s presentation of the bill can be viewed on the Parliamentlive.tv website.


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Japanese MPs to table anti-online ticket touting bill

A coalition of Japanese parliamentarians are to submit a bill to the House of Representatives to regulate Japan’s increasingly controversial online secondary ticketing market.

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members of the Parliamentary Group on Live Entertainment met on 7 December to author the bill, which would mandate all tickets resold on the internet include information about the event’s date, time, location and seat number; a notice that resale of the ticket is prohibited; and that the promoter has taken measures to prevent the ticket’s resale, including by checking the identity of the ticket seller.

The proposed legislation would also classify resale of tickets above face value as fraud, similar to the ban on street ticket touts. There is currently no regulation of online ticket resale, which according to the International Ticketing Yearbook 2017 is a ¥50bn ($44m) market, with Ticket Camp – currently being investigated by the police for alleged breaches of competition law – the largest player.

“I would like to … present this bill as soon as possible”

The parliamentary group plans to table the bill in the House of Representatives, the lower house of Japan’s national parliament, the Diet, in January.

The ruling LDP hopes to have the ban in place, with cross-party support, before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games. “I would like to consult with the [LDP’s coalition partner] Komeito and opposition parties and present the bill as soon as possible,” says former LDP secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba.

The new bill follows the launch of #ResaleNO, an industry backed FanFair Alliance-style campaign aimed at ending ticket touting, last August, and that of Tiketore, Japan’s first face-value ticket exchange, in May.


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Digital Economy Bill signed into law

The Digital Economy Bill 2016-17, which criminalises the use of ticket bots in the UK, has received royal assent and become law.

The bill, which also includes provisions relating to online pornography, direct marketing, digital intellectual property and increasing broadband speed, prohibits the misuse of an “electronic communications network” or “electronic communications service” to bulk-buy tickets.

It also builds on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 by requiring secondary ticket sellers to provide a “unique ticket number that may help the buyer to identify the seat or standing area or its location”.

Matt Hancock, the UK’s minister of state for digital and culture (pictured), says he’s “delighted the Digital Economy Act has become law”, saying the legislation will provide “better support for consumers” and “help build a more connected and stronger economy”.

Anti-ticket touting group FanFair Alliance has welcomed the news, but cautioned that the effectiveness of the bill “will be for nothing” without proper enforcement.

“It is now vital that the UK’s consumer laws are enforced, and recommendations made in the Waterson review are fully implemented”

“On top of government measures to criminalise the bulk-buying of tickets, this relatively minor amendment to the Consumer Rights Act, for a ‘unique ticket number’ to be displayed when a ticket is listed for resale, should greatly increase transparency in the so-called secondary ticketing market,” it said in a statement.

“If enforced, it will give users some assurances that the ticket they are buying actually exists, as well as disrupting the practices of hardcore touts that thrive on sites like Viagogo, StubHub, Get Me In! and Seatwave. FanFair Alliance would like to thank everyone who has supported us in campaigning for these changes – and particularly Nigel Adams MP, Sharon Hodgson MP, Lord Moynihan, Baroness Hayter, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Stevenson, the late Baroness Heyhoe-Flint and members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

“We were also heartened that the culture minister has clarified unequivocally that secondary platforms must provide information of any resale restrictions. Going forward, it is now vital that the UK’s consumer laws are enforced, and recommendations made in the Waterson review of secondary ticketing are fully implemented.

“After the general election [on 8 June], we will need details on how all these changes will work in practice. Only then, and combined with a concerted effort from industry and regulators, will this broken market be fixed and British audiences provided with the open and properly functioning resale market they deserve.”


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Licensing Act “fundamentally flawed”, rules Lords

The Licensing Act 2003, which governs the issuing of entertainment licences for live music in the UK, is “fundamentally flawed”, a House of Lords committee has found.

Among the recommendations of the Licensing Act 2003 committee, which led a ten-month inquiry into the legislation, are the abolition of local-authority planning committees, with licensing instead integrated with planning applications; the abolition of ‘late-night levies’ – or extra charges levied on venues to pay for the cost of of policing – which were described as “fundamentally wrong in principle and in practice”; and setting of licensing fees by local government rather than nationally.

The committee also said the agent-of-change principle – which “would require anyone instigating a new building development or a change in land use […] to take into account the nearby properties and their functions”, and was introduced in a limited form last summer – should be adopted nationally in in both planning and licensing guidance, “to help protect both licensed premises and local residents from consequences arising from any new built development in their nearby vicinity”.

The inquiry additionally recommended that disabled people’s access be considered when granting licences, stating: “Scotland’s example should also be followed in helping disabled people to access licensed premises by requiring an application for a premises licence to include a disabled access statement.”

Committee chairman Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (pictured) comments: “The committee was shocked by some of the evidence it received on hearings before licensing committees. Their decisions have been described as ‘something of a lottery’, ‘lacking formality’ and ‘indifferent’, with some ‘scandalous misuses of the powers of elected local councillors’.

“Pubs, clubs and live music venues are a vital part of our cultural identity. Any decline in our cities’ world-famous nightlife ought to be prevented and the businesses supported”

“Pubs, clubs and live music venues are a vital part of our cultural identity. Any decline in our cities’ world-famous nightlife ought to be prevented and the businesses supported. But the night-time economy needs regulating; even in these areas of cities, residents have their rights. The current systems – early-morning restriction orders and late-night levies – are not being used because they do not work.”

Industry umbrella group UK Music welcomed the Lords’ recommendations, but expressed its disappointment at the failure of an amendment to the act that would have required local authorities to consider the “social or cultural benefits” of venues when granting licences.

Its chief executive, Jo Dipple, says: “We agree with the committee when it says the Licensing Act is fundamentally flawed. That is why the Live Music Act was unanimously supported when proposed as a private-member’s bill by Lord Clement-Jones. It is welcome, therefore, that the Lords’ committee report clearly recognises the impact of the Live Music Act. UK Music agrees that more needs to be done to spread awareness of its benefits to local and national government.

“UK Music asks government to take forward the Lords suggestion that a full agent-of-change principle for planning and licensing guidance be introduced. If implemented, recommendations to introduce an agent-of-change principle and ditch the late-night levy will make a big difference to the provision of music across the UK’s cities and regions. A proposed ‘fifth objective’ for licensing decisions, which would enable local authorities to weigh up positive cultural impacts, would also have helped, and it is a pity the committee did not accept this.”


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Pyrotechnic ban comes into force in UK

Possessing fireworks, flares or other pyrotechnics at music festivals and concerts is now illegal in Britain.

The Policing and Crime Bill 2017, which comes into force today, includes a section prohibiting the “possession of pyrotechnic articles at musical events”, a measure long campaigned for by the UK live music industry.

A “pyrotechnic article” is defined as “an article that contains explosive substances, or an explosive mixture of substances, designed to produce heat, light, sound, gas or smoke, or a combination of such effects, through self-sustained exothermic chemical reactions”, with the notable exception of matches.

The maximum sentence for violation of the new law, which brings live music in line with a similar ban at sporting events, is 51 weeks in prison. Artists and event promoters are excepted.


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Lords vote for further UK resale regulation

The British government was yesterday defeated by the House of Lords on an amendment anti-touting campaigners say will significantly strengthen obligations to consumers by secondary ticketing sites.

The snappily titled amendment 33ZLZA to the Digital Economy Bill is opposed by the government, which backs the recommendations made in the Waterson report, an independent review which recommended no new legislation in favour of proper enforcement of the existing Consumer Rights Act (CRA) 2015.

However, members of Britain’s unelected – but politically balanced – upper house yesterday voted 180–157 in favour of the amendment, which would require sites such Seatwave, Get Me In!, StubHub and Viagogo to provide the ticket reference or booking number, as well as any specific condition attached to the resale of the ticket.

Under the CRA, secondary sites are already obliged to list the original face value, seat/row numbers and any usage restrictions.

The bill goes back to the House of Commons (elected, controlled by the government) next month for MPs to either approve or reject the amendments made by the Lords.

“This is not about a cap on resale prices. It is perfectly within the conclusions … of the Waterson report to move ahead with this simple but effective remedy”

Addressing the Lords yesterday, Conservative peer Lord Moynihan said: “We do not want to ban the [secondary] market, although noble Lords did so for the Olympic Games in London 2012. Similarly, this is not about a cap on resale prices. It is perfectly within the conclusions [of], and the government’s response to, the Waterson report, to move ahead with this simple but effective remedy.

“It is not costly; it is about the cost of a phone call […] to say: ‘Your original ticket had a unique reference number on it. I want to check that the one I have bought from StubHub or one of the other secondary sites is for real. Can you tell me whether that same number, which does not exist on there – or they have put another number on it – is for real before I incur a lot of costs?’. It is a simple additional consumer protection measure which does not cost anything.

“It would look after consumers – in this context, particularly fans of sport and fans of music – which is what we should be all about.”

Anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance is also in favour of the amendment. “Despite concerted media and political scrutiny, the resale of tickets on platforms like Viagogo, Get Me In!, Seatwave and StubHub remains wholly lacking in transparency,” says FanFair’s Adam Webb. “This is the only online marketplace where buyers are given no identity about sellers – a peculiarity which is massively helpful to touts whose activities are anonymised, but not so much to consumers. It’s is a recipe for bad practice at best, and outright fraud at worst.

“That’s why this small amendment to the Consumer Rights Act is so important, as it could help provide more certainty that a ticket actually exists in the first place, as well as crucial details about terms and conditions of resale. FanFair Alliance warmly welcomes the Lords’ decision last night, and alongside the other recent commitments we look forward to further discussions with government about how ticket resale can be made more transparent, honest and consumer-friendly.”


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