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UK orgs react to new PRS tariff for small live streams

Key organisations from the UK’s music industry have criticised PRS for Music for its new “ill-conceived” licence for small-scale livestreamed gigs, following last year’s backlash about the proposed tariff for larger livestreamed events.

The UK performance rights organisation has today launched a new licensing portal for music creators, venues and promoters wanting to stage livestream small-scale events, which will impose a flat fee equating to a minimum 9% tariff on events generating less than £500.

The blanket rate for a show that generates less than £250 is £22.50, and £45 for an event that generates between £250 and £500.

The move follows the last year’s proposal that larger livestream events should be subject to a tariff of between 8% and 17% of gross revenues, compared to 4.2% charged at normal in-person live shows.

This prompted Music Managers Forum (MMF) and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) to send a joint letter – countersigned by more than 50 artist managers – to PRS for Music CEO Andrea Martin last month urging her to reconsider the move.

“[PRS] need to commit to a full and transparent industry-wide consultation before issuing invoices to cash-strapped artists”

PRS says it will not be actively pursuing licences for livestreamed events that took place prior to the launch of the new portal, which would have qualified for the fixed fee licence.

Commenting on the new licence for small-scale livestreamed concerts, David Martin, CEO at FAC, and Annabella Coldrick, chief executive at MMF, say: “All of us want songwriters and composers to be paid fairly and efficiently for the use of their work, but this is not the way to go about it. Once again, we would urge PRS for Music to stop acting unilaterally.

“They need to urgently listen to the growing concerns of artists and their representatives during the pandemic, implement a waiver for performer-writers to opt-out of such fees, and commit to a full and transparent industry-wide consultation before issuing invoices to cash-strapped artists.”

“Unilaterally announcing ill-conceived new tariffs in a crisis is not such a discussion”

Mark Davyd, CEO at Music Venue Trust, added: “The live music industry, including grassroots music venues, artists and promoters, is in crisis mode and pulling together. The team at MVT have been in regular correspondence with PRS for Music throughout this crisis on how we can work together to ensure everyone emerges from this crisis and we can get back to work. At no time during those conversations has anybody suggested that a new tariff for streaming would be created. We have not been consulted on this, advised of it, or even notified of it prior to a press release being issued.

“The principal beneficiaries of paid streaming during this crisis have been artists. The beneficiaries of charitable streaming, online broadcasts by artists to raise money for causes, have included venues, crew, artists, and the wider community, including healthcare workers, food banks and homeless charities.

“It is unclear from this press statement whether PRS for Music wishes to clampdown on artists paying themselves or on artists supporting charities, but we would strongly suggest that neither should have been advanced to the stage of an announcement of a Tariff without understanding the most basic economics of what streaming is actually doing during this crisis.

“We remain available to discuss the realities of streaming during this crisis with PRS for Music if they wish to have an informed discussion on it. Unilaterally announcing ill-conceived new tariffs in a crisis is not such a discussion.”

“[PRS] is continuing to work to agree a range of licensing options for larger events, including a proposed discount”

Andrea Martin, CEO, PRS for Music, says: “We recognise the importance of providing simple licensing solutions wherever possible and the licensing portal for small-scale online events is an example of this. We are continuing to work hard to agree a range of licensing options for providers of larger events, including a proposed discounted rate during the pandemic.

“This is a part of the market which has seen exponential growth and is itself constantly evolving, meeting the expectations for worldwide blanket licences is alone no small feat, but we are committed to finding solutions which ensure members can be paid fairly when their works are performed.”

John Truelove, writer director, PRS Members’ Council, says: “Composers and songwriters have faced monumental challenges this past year. So, the huge surge in the online live concert market beyond anyone’s expectations, is positive news all round. It is great that so many artists are performing online concerts to stay connected with fans, to earn a living, and to promote new releases.

“Anyone wanting to hold small online ticketed gigs can now get a PRS licence in a simple and straightforward way. This will create even more opportunities for artists, musicians and writers to thrive together while ensuring that songwriters and composers are being properly paid when their music is performed.”

PRS is proposing to apply temporary discounted rates on livestream licensing for bigger events until the live sector can reopen – though these are yet to be determined.


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The complexities of direct licensing

My initial thoughts in regard to direct licensing were What a good idea! But looking into it and working out the mechanics casts a rather different light on the matter.

At face value, the prospect looks simple: an artist, who writes their own material, serves notice on the PRS to exclude the works on their set list. This could be for any number of songs and territories. The artist then directly licenses the concert to the promoter of the day. Seems easy enough, but being involved at a detailed level in the process, I quickly realised how much more complex it was in practice. Additionally, applying this to festivals fragments the process even further, with multiple bands over multiple stages where most will be licensed through the usual established channels.

Direct licensing encounters so many questions and ‘What ifs.’ Firstly, the set list needs to be disclosed in order to exclude the titles, or a subset of songs that might cover all sets in all dates in territories. (The artists I worked with did not want to disclose tour dates ahead of their announcement to their fan base, nor did they wish to disclose their intended set list). A writer’s music publisher needs to reassign their publisher’s share as well, however in some cases, publishing agreements actually stipulate any writer reassignment reverts to them and not back to the writer, so a further step has to happen to allow a writer to directly license.

Then you have questions like: What if there is an outstanding advance with the publisher? Who is going to make the royalty calculations back to them? Will they even want to participate in the process? What is the local performance royalty rate applied in each territory and will a discount apply? What is the main versus support split? What does pro rata really mean? What if the support acts do not want to directly license? What if they cannot (or would not be released to do so)? What if the artist wants to perform a cover? (Exclusion needs to be total and not partial, and who is going to tell them they can’t?) What if the artist wants to change their set list during the tour?

Once on the road, it is too late to change documentation, since the process to directly license is a legal one that is governed by a writer’s society membership agreement.

“Promoters need to earn their crust, much like any of us – but this really needs to happen with less opacity and this effective tax, of either artist or writer/publisher, needs to stop”

I work closely with the management of a major touring artist (who writes their own songs). Having worked with the PRS to ‘audit’ past tours and now the current tour, we can see the varied picture of the real-time licensing in territories around the world. Interestingly, the industry debate so far seems to have focused very much on the copyright societies, whereas sights should be set on the promoter and then the local societies.

Not all promoters fall into the same boat, but let’s not forget: the live performance income flow starts with them. The promoter licenses the show and pays the local society. It is a promoter that receives the discount on the tariff applied to the relevant show box office. Why do some not disclose these discounts to the artist? Why is it that some are still allocating full published tariffs in a settlement, knowing full well that the local society will license to them at a reduced tariff? Why are some under-declaring box office figures to local societies – thus reducing payments to local societies/writers/publishers?

There should not be an issue with promoters receiving a discounted tariff as long as this is declared to the artist and the correct box office figures declared to the local society.

Promoters need to earn their crust, much like any of us – but this really needs to happen with less opacity and this effective tax (of either artist or writer/publisher) needs to stop.

What can we do to mitigate these issues? We need to reinforce the marketplace with greater transparency, with all parties engaging in this process. Riders need to include the requirement that any discounts applied must be passed through to the artist. Promoters should supply invoices received from the local society to the artists’ managements, in this way there can be certainty that the correct box office figure and % tariff has been applied. Territory rates need to be shared between societies and their memberships. Box office settlement information needs to be shared with the PRS to give them the data they need to reconcile. There needs to be a more cohesive working relationship in this area between artists’ managements, promoters, publishers and societies to create much better efficiencies.


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