It’s a PRS-ing matter 24/06/2008
The more media savvy readers out there will have noticed the good old PRS being mentioned in the press recently thanks to their apparent ‘bullying’ of small businesses around the country.
Mechanic Tony Jackson was the catalyst for the debate as when he received a letter from the PRS informing him he had to pay £138 for a yearlong license to listen to music in his garage; he went public accusing them of “taking the mick”.
So are they?
By law (the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 law to be more precise), you have to pay the PRS for the right to play music in any public place; offices, garages, hairdressers, Doctors waiting rooms, pubs, clubs, bars, gigs etc then as we all know, this money then gets distributed back to the artists and copyright holders of the material. There are certain ways around it however; if everyone in the office wore headphones then a license wouldn’t be needed as it wouldn’t constitute as a ‘public performance’.
Since this case hit the press, many have followed suit also complaining about the PRS’ fees claiming that they’re extortionate and unfair. A cheeky example taken from Out-law.com:
A license for music played in a canteen or rest room costs 14.99 pence per day, per unit of 25 employees. So an annual license for 250 days for a canteen available to 135 employees would cost £224.85, according to PRS.
That all sounds quite reasonable in theory, but then why did they charge a mechanic in Nottingham £138 for only a handful of employees? There appears to be a few gaps missing in this story and which side they fall upon would need further inspection.
Thanks to this press circus The Federation for Small Businesses are now calling for the PRS to banish license fees for all small businesses.
I feel a stream of conscious coming on…
So who loses out here? Are the PRS being bullies? Or are they performing a vital service to artists/publishers? No one ever turns their nose up at the fact that radio stations have to pay a PRS license, or live music venues for that fact. But then you could argue that music is inherent to the business radio stations and live music venues so they should pay a license fee. But then why should they pay a license fee just because it’s a necessity to their business and let other businesses where it’s purely a luxury get away with it? Should they reduce the fees for non-music based businesses? Then the artists could receive a lot less and is that unfair? Whilst other income streams are currently dwindling, the PRS continues to collect more money for their artists/publishers year on year. You could argue that “yeah, but does Chris Martin really need another £20,000 in his back pocket?” Probably not, but that 3 piece indie band from Wolverhampton could do with that £250 they received last month to pay for some studio time.
You could go back and forth at length over this issue and satisfy no one. I would argue this whole thing has been blown out of proportion as people appear to be distancing the PRS from the people they represent and personifying it as that kid who got kept back a year at school and stole the smaller kids dinner money.
And you can understand why people have done this when institutions like the BBC report that:
Last year the PRS made £134m from Public Performance Licences. They keep between 6-12% of what they take, before passing it on to the artist.
But don’t mention the fact that the PRS is a non profit organisation and the 6-12% is purely to cover the costs of performing a mammoth task. I when I say mammoth I genuinely mean it, in the last distribution they had to analyse over 16.5 million public performances, and that’s just for the first quarter of the year.
I can wholeheartedly understand why people are complaining and you can wholeheartedly understand why I’m siding with the PRS. Whatever happens someone is going to lose out; PRS reduce fees then artists/publishers lose cash, PRS fees stay the same then small businesses will struggle to afford their license.
What I’m listening to this week; Dragonforce (I can’t stop listening to ‘Through the Fire and Flames’! somebody help me), Coheed and Cambria (same goes for ‘Feathers’… reight song) and yet more Grammtics.
What I’m reading this week: The CMU Daily