PRS: Performing Rights Scam!

prsThe music industry is very confusing at times, even for people within the industry. For musicians who are unsigned or independent it seems a complete nightmare. Who does the unsigned musician signup to? Who do they have to use?

In this article we are going to talk about the PRS in the UK and what they actually provide and don’t provide. In every country around the world there is an organisation similar to the PRS (who are a UK organisation), in which they “collect royalties for any public performance of music, whether live or recorded, and from radio and television broadcasts and online”. That is how the PRS explain themselves via their own website.

However, people don’t actually know that the PRS is just a not-for-profit organisation and are no way an official body. The PRS make the average pub, club, and music event, think that they are an official government type organisation, demanding money, claiming that they represent all artists in the UK for music performance rights (the actual artists they represent remain nameless). In fact the PRS are only a small organisation here in the UK which musicians and record labels sign and pay a membership fee too, and then the PRS are supposed to actually just collect those public performance royalties for their members only!

For musicians it isn’t at all a requirement that you join the PRS. They just provide a royalty collection service for some artists. Likewise if you are a pub, club, music event or venue, you need to pay an arranged royalty collection fee with the PRS if you play music from their artists. However, you don’t have to pay for royalties for artists who aren’t signed by the PRS, but they try to make you think that you just have to pay a blanket fee for all musicians! Simply not the case. The PRS needs to be able to provide information on exactly which artists they are representing, then each music venue, pub or club, should be able to negotiate a particular fee for every situation individually. The PRS believe that they even have the right to set a price and make people pay that price without any negotiations at all.

In conclusion the PRS are just a collection agency representing the performance rights of certain artists. The PRS don’t have the rights to make any place that plays recorded music pay a fixed amount. The PRS also needs to provide documentation on which artists they are and are not representing,  then it is a simple process of negotiating a price individually with a venue. Artists don’t have to signup to the PRS they are just an optional collection agency for performance rights and they work in a similar way to how RouteNote works, but obviously in a different sector. If the PRS don’t represent artists who’s music is played in a particular venue then each venue is supposed to, by law, find out and pay whoever owns that particular copyright on every single track. So why pay the middle man, or in some cases the artist and the middle man? Why do the PRS find it acceptable to demand royalties for a list of names they refuse to publish? Why do we have to pay the PRS for listening to the radio at work, do the radio stations not pay enough royalties themselves?

Update: A leading digital music site has responded to our article with the following.

Not a good article, in my opinion. There seems to be a huge misunderstanding of PRS, copyright law and blanket licenses.

Collection societies and all the issues in the post are hardly new. And, yes, they CAN make public establishments pay flat fees if the venue plays their artists. (The author of the post should have taken the time to go to the PRS website to look up the tens of thousands of songwriters it represents.) I don’t know what percent of the market PRS has, but in the U.S. there are three and the vast majority of artists are signed with either BMI or ASCAP. Individual licenses are completely unrealistic. A venue can’t be expected to know what songs a radio station will play, or what cover songs a band will play. And since there are so few collection societies, any venue can be assured that a good portion of the music played will be part of any one collection society’s catalog. So collecting societies offer blanket licenses that cover their entire catalogs. It’s very efficient. (The model is very much like what would have to be adopted in a legal, paid-for P2P network. The ISP or user would pay a flat fee for a blanket license and revenue would be split between labels/artists according to volume. Users who downloaded songs not covered by whatever licensed the ISP had obtained would be breaking the law.)

Bottom line is songwriters have a right to get paid when their songs are used in commercial settings. If music adds value to a public establishment, that business has a LEGAL obligation to pay royalties.

There is one easy way around paying collection societies: make sure only originals are played by songwriters who are not signed with any collection socieity: http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/content?oid=1026770. But that’s a rare expection and not practical for most places of business or live venues. A lot of managers would not want to send their artists to a venue that does not pay collection socieities.

Our Reply: This is our reply with regards to the Update above.

C: Not a good article, in my opinion. There seems to be a huge misunderstanding
of PRS, copyright law and blanket licenses.

RN: Everyone is entitled to an opinion…

C: Collection societies and all the issues in the post are hardly new.

RN: True, but the world is changing around them. These self appointed ‘institutions’ are from the days when we were all buying our music on vinyl, now the increasing trend is to consume music digitally, a totally different ball game – they’re essentially a musicians’ trade union, and not a particularly comprehensive one. Any union that charges minority members money to become a member seems suspect to me.

C: And, yes, they CAN make public establishments pay flat fees if the venue plays their artists.

RN: Capitals, eh? That lends a lot of force to the argument… The issue here is not whether the artists are owed money for their copyright; no-one in their right minds would argue that artists don’t deserve reward for people using and enjoying their work, the issue is how they go about it. With no investigation of the music use in 99.9% of all cases, and no proper design of fees let alone consultation with the people they’re charging money to. I can’t set my own prices for the work I do and unilaterally bill people with no discussion, only the threat of litigation; that’s not business, it’s extortion.

C: (The author of the post should have taken the time to go to the PRS website to look up the tens of thousands of songwriters it represents.)

RN: If you can find this list on their website you’re a better man than me, and I’d be very interested to see it! In every instance where I’ve asked the PRS for information like this they have declined to give it out. A cynical person would say that this is so they can bluff their way through and charge anyone they want, whatever they want regardless.

C: I don’t know what percent of the market PRS has, but in the U.S. there are three and the vast majority of artists are signed with either BMI or ASCAP.

RN: How can you state this? Do you presume to know how many performers and artists there are in the UK or the States? Have you asked even the musicians in your acquaintance whether they’re signed up? I’ve never seen any figures on this, apart from the PRS’ claim of 60,000 artists on their books, a list I’ve never been privileged to see.

C:Individual licenses are completely unrealistic. A venue can’t be expected to know what songs a radio station will play, or what cover songs a band will play.

RN: The radio station should have a pretty good idea though… If they’re broadcasting a service, and they’re making money off advertising during their broadcast, then they should be responsible for tracking what’s played and for paying the broadcast royalties. To suggest anything else is ludicrous – a thought experiment to illustrate this. 100 music fans listen to their radios at home, no problem, according to the PRS; they picks up their portable sets and go to a venue, pub, club, place of work… whatever – same ears, same radio, but suddenly we have a big problem according to the PRS. What’s changed about the licensing situation? That they’re stood in a different room?

C: And since there are so few collection societies, anyvenue can be assured that a good portion of the music played will be part ofany one collection society’s catalog.

RN: Where’s the accountability? Why in the face of all good sense and precedent is the music listening public being assumed guilty until proved innocent in this instance? If someone wants to charge me for something, they need to have evidence of an exchange of consideration in my favour. If you want me to pay for my meal, you should at least be able to prove that I ate it…

C: So collecting societies offer blanketlicenses that cover their entire catalogs. It’s very efficient. (The modelis very much like what would have to be adopted in a legal, paid-for P2Pnetwork. The ISP or user would pay a flat fee for a blanket license and revenue would be split between labels/artists according to volume. Users who downloaded songs not covered by whatever licensed the ISP had obtained would be breaking the law.)

RN: So the P2P network would be expected to keep track of what got shared and played, and the revenue would be split openly and fairly, not based on the dubious assumptions of a body accountable to no-one, and the use of the P2P network’s paid for services would be voluntary and agreed in advance by both parties rather than handed down from on high by that same self-appointed body.

C: Bottom line is songwriters have a right to get paid when their songs are used in commercial settings. If music adds value to a public establishment, that business has a LEGAL obligation to pay royalties.

RN: Agreed – to the people that deserve it; those that have had their music used… I’ve staged local artists before in UK venues that haven’t seen a penny from the PRS even though they were signed up. They don’t benefit from me paying a license fee to some remote beauracracy – they benefit from me paying them to gig their own material that night. In any case, why should the artists lay out to have their rights protected? If the PRS are so interested in protecting artists they should offer their services to musicians free, and take their costs out of the licenses they firk from venues and broadcasters, just as RouteNote lets artists sign up for free, and takes our costs from music sold by stores to willing customers.

C: There is one easy way around paying collection societies: make sure only originals are played by songwriters who are not signed with any collection socieity: http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/content?oid=1026770.

RN: Or you can pay the bands that play at your venue. A direct relationship obviates the need for any of the infrastructure of the PRS, all those people need to eat and drive their cars and have an office to work in… but do musicians really need to pay them for it? That’s obviously something for each artist considering signing up to a society like the PRS to consider for themselves, but if I am paying someone, I expect them to justify the money they charge me. I don’t believe that members have any say whatsoever about the salaries drawn by executives – let alone the costs of running the office. If it were a tuly equitable society, these things would all be open to decision by members votes at an AGM, and all accounts would be published for public review, or at least review by members which would amount to the same thing.

C: But that’s a rare expection and not practical for most places of business or live venues. A lot of managers would not want to send their artists to a venue that does not pay collection socieities. Also, PRS is not-for-profit, not “just a corporate organization,” as described in the post.

RN: Hmm. I think the director of the PRS probably doesn’t have to ride a push-bike to work… They say they “only deduct a small administration/commission fee to cover operating costs.” Who is controlling their use of their members’ money?

Im your friendly RouteBot. Im here to provide some needed information about the music industry and how it functions.

“Unstoppable” Drake tops Spotify for the 2nd year in a row in their 2016 top lists

Spotify have revealed the top streaming lists for 2016 taking a look back at the year in music and seeing who dominated the platform. Today Spotify released their annual look back at the year after…

How do you advance machine learning? Teach them Beethoven and Bach

MusicNet is a new dataset of classical music that aims to teach compositions to machines to advance machine’s learning, understanding and compositional capabilities. MusicNet is a large dataset created by University of Washington (UW) researchers…

28 comments

    Excellent discussion!
    Further to the point, venues providing music to the public cannot be expected to take the hit of a large, fixed rate, issued without authority, due to the PRS’ inability to research the event or performance they are billing.
    I would say in most cases the bands are being payed for their time directly. So as the article asks, ‘ why pay the middle man ‘ aswell??

    The organisations fronts good intentions but i’m left increasingly unconvinced. The idea in principle is flawless, artist’s get paid for their work, no discussion. But in practise, well, i think the PRS go about it all wrong.

    Yes, it’s true that PRS are percieved by those who don’t truly understand the music business as being unreasonable in asking for license fees from those who use music in their business. Your original statement makes the most fundamental of errors in suggesting that PRS for Music represent artists – they dont, they represent writers and publishers. Without collection societies like PRS for Music, these creative people would lose a significant (perhaps their most significant) source of revenue.
    I can’t believe that anyone who operates a service like your’s would be that naive…

    Quibble quibble Mr. Griggs – since when are songwriters and publishers not artists? Or is it simply that you’re choosing to apply a narrow definition to suit your argument?

    Songwriters and publishers do have an income stream from performance of their work, but they are also paid when they sell their music to musicians to record and perform. A freelance journalist is not paid for every time someone reads the news article they wrote, they are simply paid for their initial work; it’s up to freelance songwriters to design their own deals of course, and this point does nothing to address all of the failings of accountability inherent in the PRS’ system. Regardless of this, most artists write their own music and lyrics, thus the copyright inherent in most music performed retains to those performing it.

    This article really is poorly researched.

    ”However, you don’t have to pay for royalties for artists who aren’t signed by the PRS, but they try to make you think that you just have to pay a blanket fee for all musicians!”

    This is incorrect. If a venue hosts live music performances, you need a licence. Period. Just like a TV licence. PRS will then collect additional venue (3% of the box office for bigger venues) where writers whose songs they represent have their songs performed, whether it is performed by themselves or covered.

    ”In fact the PRS are only a small organisation here in the UK which musicians and record labels sign and pay a membership fee too, and then the PRS are supposed to actually just collect those public performance royalties for their members only!”

    …. a small organisation who collect over £500m per year and employ almost 1000 people. Record labels do not sign up to PRS, they sign up to PPL.

    ”They say they “only deduct a small administration/commission fee to cover operating costs.” Who is controlling their use of their members’ money”

    ….Most standard (UK – its 50% in the US) publishing deal will see a publisher retain 30% of an artists earnings. The PRS collection fee is rarely higher than 7%. Go figure.

    Dash- Mr Griggs is spot on. There are numerous instances when songwriters are not artists. There is a separate body, PPL, who collect income when a specific recording of a composition is played. The reason freelance journalists aren’t paid when someone else reads their newsarticle probably because it qualifies as a ‘fair dealing’ and is therefore permitted under the copyright act. A musician doesnt get paid when parts of their songs are reproduced in magazines under the same prinicipal.

    Just to say that if you are a member of PRS, there is an on-line database that has access to all the artist information you require – so you can see what songs are represented etc.

    Hi Do what a lot of UK Businesses are doing and tune into http://www.rfmradio.co.uk Royalty Free Music Radio, NO PRS or PPL Fees if this is all you listen to.
    Its as good as your mainstream radio stations just that we use quality unsigned bands, Profesional Dj hosted shows, News, Weather and entertainment.
    O and did I say they were looking for a sponsor, is Kwik fit reading this?
    New website – new look – new sounds – NO FEES – No Hassle – Music as it should be

    The much more interesting situation these days relates to digital downloads. As we understand it, the PRS and PPL existing agreements do not cover downloads and they are expecting their members to sign up to new agreements to cover these services.

    We would be interested to know whether artists/record companies would consider a new collection society if its rates were lower than traditional rates and could over artists a greater percentage than the PRS / PPL were offering.

    YES! we have the exact same issue in Denmark with a socalled sisterorganisation ‘Koda’/’NCB’. We cannot make our own music on a cd without their interferrence. Somehow they managed to control what to be printed and recorded on any media in our country. At the same time they can’t do anything for small producers and musicians, when it comes to illegal downloads. They are in bed with ISPs that wont let them check if people break the law, but earn money on musicians and play their music for almost nothing, without asking the socalled ‘members’ (musicians). They claim I can’t post an embedded youtube video on my site without paying royalties -‘since they have an agreement with PRS’. In the danish press I’ve read they haven’t got an agreement(!), but they keep saying that when I talk to them. Is their anyway through contacting PRS that i can find out what agrrement they have with youtube? (sound like they are exactly as secretive as the danish KODA).

    WHAT A LOAD OF OLD RUBBISH, WHY ENTER MASSIVE DISSCUSSION AND ARGUMENT ..WASTED ENERGY ..PRS ARE A BUNCH OF CROOKS….. END OF …..

    Why now? Where were the PRS people for the last few decades?

    Every business in my wee town has been contacted by the PRS in the last couple of years.
    The usual thing, workplaces with a radio and chip shop with a telly are getting phone calls/visits. They are bemused and unsure if they are being threatened by a governmental dept, or an organisation of music industry lawyers making a request?

    If yu don’t pay what’s the result? Are there any examples?

    I have been in hotel business since 1980s paid them in the past. HAVE NOT PAID THEM FOR LAST TWENTY ODD YEARS. So many places do not pay I got fesd up and refused to pay. Last time I kicked their rep out, When he came to a hotel we had just acquired. Told them to take me to court, 3 years ago. hearde nothing since.

    I am a member of PRS. I have been for over 10 years. It is a superb organisation and has allowed me to earn my living writing television music by providing much-needed royalties. I agree totally with Music lawyer and Mr Griggs – the article that begins this page is REALLY POOR. It is full of assumptions and misunderstanding. I won’t list them because (to be honest) the article is not good enough to warrant that. If I was a teacher and this was homework I wouldn’t mark it. I’d just say “do it again properly.”

    If businesses derive any value out of playing music then it is right and proper that those of us who learned our craft well enough to carry this work out get rewarded for it. Simply offering to pay bands directly when they play live misses the point. If they played MY song then how would I get paid?

    If you don’t want to pay creative people for what they do – for enhancing our lives in so many ways then you would find soon enough that there wouldn’t be any…we’d all have day jobs. If you like music – pay for it. If you don’t want to pay for it then turn off the radio, stop the gigs and go read a book or something. Either way…get real! PRS represents most professional UK artists. Artists who have yet to have work braodcast on TV / radio etc may join when they have done so…for a one-off fee of only £50 or so. That’s for life. Incidentally….PRS use some of the money that they collect but are unable to pass on for vital music education projects that see well-known artists share their talent and passion with youngsters who may just be tomorrows writers and singers and players – you get the idea.

    @Jonnas if these businesses played your tracks then you should have any agreement with the individual artist who used your music. I think they are going after companies when they should really be selling their work to artists to use and earn royalties that way.

    Fair enough, but what about businesses that play classical music, composed largely by people who are centuries dead? I resent paying my PRS fee, some of which goes to Bono, when I’m playing Mozart in my shop.

    Regarding your music, of course it is only right that you receive financial benefit for your work, but doesn’t the production company that commissions you pay you? And doesn’t the broadcaster pay the PRS for the right to use it? I know that part of my BBC License fee goes towards Radio 3s PRS payment, so should the PRS get a second bite at the cherry when I play music by dead composers in my second-hand book shop?

    well unsure what to think, I am a small Haidressing buisness in the North of Scotland in a small town, and have been disgusted at the fact PPL and PRS both want well over £100.00 from me for only being open 3 days a week working in my salon where I only play a radio for a minimum time. I really believe you should pay one or the other, or preferably nothing at all. This is another mager put off for us small buisness. This is also not just a one off payment for X amount of years this is a yearly amount which they expect from you year after year!!!

    I am a partner in a ladies fashion shop and for a number of years have paid a license fee to PRS as far as i understand because we have a radio in the shop. This year the fee was £84.64 to cover the year ending November 2010, we receive a certificate which we display in the shop and have allways thought this was something that i was legally bound to pay and display.
    I have now out of the blue received 2 invoices from PPL for £63.58 and £31.80 the first one to cover a license fee that looks as though its for the same thing as i pay PRS for and the second for a surcharge because we have been playing music in the shop in the past.
    Surely i do not have to pay 2 organisations for what looks like the same thing. Funny thing to both logos of the two companies liik very similar and it would be very easy to get the two confused, any advice from anyone please we are due to pay these 2 invoices on the 19th June

    I’m glad that there are so many people with financial interests in music. I’m glad they are feeding themselves and getting through life. The PRS are a convinient way for citizens and the like to make financial contributions to the music industry’s admin staff. If you have some spare change then please contribute. Give more than you recieve and the industry will flourish. In saying all of the above if you are short of money, then it’s maybe not very wise to pay a membership fee or licience fee to the PRS. Through my experience with them they have enough trouble looking after their own interests without looking after the interests of those they claim to serve.
    Music is art and not business. All the lawyers / collection agencies / record companies / publishing houses / PR companies etc create this beautiful illusion that there is somehow profit in music. A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And I salute everyone for taking the time to value something that is essentially worthless. Music will always dip your pocket and enrich your soul. And to the aspiring songwriter. You live and work from the goodwill and charity of others. There is nothing owed to you and no one is counting. We pretend it is so, so that the people may look to you like a champion amongst them and just maybe give them a little hope on the way. Keep making music.

    PRS
    How I see it.

    OK an artist creates a song / music etc. The artist desperately wants radio stations to air the song / music so that it will be advertised and the general public can hear it; so that they then go out and buy the cd with 5 or more other tracks on it and traditionally it has been like that for years.

    All of a sudden from nowhere the PRS who proclaims to be in favour of the artist start asking for money from small businesses and are using the public performance angle as a crowbar to extract money.
    So what have they done?
    Levied a charge against businesses for playing a radio which has resulted in businesses removing radios from their premises because we do not want to pay to listen to a radio which in most cases is just back ground music.

    So now the artist does not get heard in the places where people spend most of their time. So the prospective buyer does not hear the music so doesn’t know it exists so it never gets sold.

    I think that the radio stations should now charge the artist for advertising their records particularly the most affluent of them, let’s see how long the PRS lasts then, because all this does is push people toward the inevitable alternatives of paying for music like the internet burning CDs even if it is of lesser quality.
    Most up and coming artist would give their right arm to be on the radio and be heard by millions.

    I have banned the playing of radios at my company in direct response to the existence of the PRS taking these draconian methods. This action has had no effect on production or the well being of my staff despite the PRS using selling tactics like: “Production will decrease”, and “Workers are more likely to take time off”, trying to sell the use of a radio in commercial premises so that they can impose a levy for it.
    My wife has ceased using a radio in her salon for the same reasons.

    I say get rid of the PRS it’s not needed and it is detrimental to the music business as a whole. The only people who want it are ‘has-beens’, greedy bastards, and PRS directors who want paying a disproportionate amount of money for what they do or don’t do.
    Coley

    Like most people I do object to paying for these services which we have been doing for the last year and is up for renewal now – hence my google to see how legal they are. Last year I argued with PRS that they could not possibly tell who to give the monies to as they could not tell which station a radio was tuned to, I didn’t get a reply to this, just more pressure to sign up and pay. Like most people I believe that music artists should receive money for their efforts as they should be paid for their efforts, but fairly.

    I suspect at the moment the bigger artists receive bigger amounts and the smaller artists receive a pittance based on record sales rather than listening figures. Who knows whther we are listening to Radio One, two, Three or Four? These stations each play a totally different range of music.

    I think it would be fairer to increase the levy on radio stations as in my experience, being commercial businesses who sell advertising,they have an accurate idea of how many listeners they have at any time and where those listeners are listening from, ie work or home. There are stations who directly target people at work>

    If the PRS was a government organisation, they would hopefully be subject to severe cutbacks under the quango reduction program.

    It would be interesting to know how many big companies are signed up to PRS and more mportantly whether anyone has successfully challenged them in court? I really can’t see this standing up in court, Your honour, we wqant to charge the defendant for listiening to unknown tracks from which we will deduct a percentage and then pay artists , the identity of which we will not disclose.

    Common sense – where has it gone, welcome to Rip Off Britain!

    The PRS paid it’s highest paid director £425,000 in 2007. So it may be “not for profit” but that’s money directly out of songwriters pockets for someone doing a job that could be done just as well for considerably less.

    I have a very small business with a couple of staff, we normally have a radio playing in the back warehouse – until a few weeks ago, a spotty arrogant, little know-it-all from PRS turned up, completely unannounced – “you have to pay £85” he said “or we will take you to court” – that was pretty much his opening line! I am not a broadcaster, I don’t make money from having a radio on- I don’t hold concerts or sell entertainment on the premises, I am merely playing publicly distributed content which presumably the radio station has paid PRS for – needless to say, the PRS rep was evicted from our premises, we are not paying , but we are still playing – we would be fools to fall for this scam!

    Agree with BrianD. The main beef is there is a world of difference between those on this thread putting on gigs and therefore charging people to come see acts and companies playing radios in the background, trying to earn an honest living making other stuff but NOT making money from the radio being on. Just a thought – the main tenure of the PRS argument seems to be those playing music in a public place so presumably that means people who sunbathe on beaches while they have the radio on and people with the misnamed personal stereos on their headphones on public transport etc. I speak as a would-be composer – I do NOT agree with the PRS charging companies for having the radio/CD on.

    What I don’t get and brought up with the PRS is that if I have to pay the PPL (record company licence) why the hell are they not paying artists? Why am I paying the artist as well as their record company? As a musician myself I asked the PRS if I needed to produce a list of the artists I was using so they would directly earn from the performance in my shop. I was told that this money is shared between all their members. Members who incidentally also have to pay to belong to this supposedly nfp organisation. I have since cancelled my PRS licence as my business can’t afford the £500 a year they both wanted. Now I play royalty free music. I am sure they don’t operate with a legal mandate on this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *