PRS vs Google

So I thought I’d dip my toes into this as a couple of Sentric artists have asked for my humble musings on the matter and as that’s what this blog is all about (to serve you good people) let’s crack on shall we?

So you probably will have seen in the press/blogosphere/twittersphere that YouTube (who are owned by Google) have removed all official music video content from the site due to a dispute they’re having with PRS For Music who are asking for more cash off them to pay the writers and composers of said music.

Cue outrage.

Now there are arguments for both sides of this disagreement (although for me there are more valid ones for a certain side than the other) but throughout my web trawling I’ve come across some dubious at best statements that scream ignorance and have come out of pure ill education.

There is a brilliant Mitchell & Webb radio sketch where they’re presenting a spoof current affairs show asking the good folk of Britain what they ‘reckon’, an excerpt of which goes like;

You may not know anything about the issue, but I bet you reckon something. So why not tell us what you reckon. Let us enjoy the full majesty of your uninformed ad hoc reckon, by going to bbc.co.uk… clicking on ‘what I reckon’ and then simply beating on the keyboard with your fists or head.”

Now I’m not usually one to back down from a debate, but if I’m ignorant about a certain subject I tend to stay out of making my opinions public or at the very least prefix it with some kind of ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ statement which relinquishes any future vituperation that may be directed towards me. I’ve been asked by a few people to make comments on things before for websites and newspapers which I’ve had to politely decline simply due to the fact I don’t know a thing about them. The best of which was when I was asked to contribute to a debate in the Liverpool Echo where the central question was “Do you think bail is granted too easily in this country?” Why on earth ask me that?! I’m a music publisher so therefore my knowledge regarding the UK judicial system is pretty thin on the ground.

Anyhoo, my take on this is that Google are going to have the ‘reckoners’ of this country back them in their slagging off the PRS as they just aren’t too clued up with what’s happening.

I’ve no doubt there will be people educated within this are who will be on Google’s side and that is more than fine, healthy if anything, but there will be a whole cacophony of contributors who’ll be siding with Google/Youtube because (as my rather brilliant colleague summed up) “people have an emotional link with YouTube; it has funny clips on it”.

Google are brilliant. Pretty much everything they do simply ‘works’, they’re consumer focused and have revolutionised several sectors of the new media industry. They also offer a lovely bunch of free tools that can be utilised by savvy unsigned/independent artists which I wrote a post about in the past. Click here to read Web-er You Know It Or Not and educate yourself into becoming an efficient artist. Despite my fondness for Google I would have to argue they’ve been a tad ‘arsey’ with their approach to this whole situation. So much so I just contemplated using the word ‘conflict’ rather than situation in the previous sentence when really it should have never escalated past a simple ‘discussion’.

Here are some bits and bobs you should probably know:

  • Google’s PRS license expired in December 2008 and the two parties have been in talks to renew
  • Streams of premium music video content have risen nearly 300% (up from 75million to almost 300million a quarter)
  • Despite this rather significant rise, Google want to pay the PRS 50% less than they did previously despite their music usage suggesting they’re significantly underpaying
  • At no time did the PRS instruct Google to withdraw the content from the site, this was Google’s own doing

I’m hoping that for those unaware of those facts previously will have read them and made a ‘hm!’ noise thanks to the knowledge just bestowed upon them. (on a side note, the ‘hm!’ noise I talk about is one of my favourites in the world as it means I’ve just learnt something interesting. I must make said noise several times throughout the average episode of QI).

It’s borderline lunacy for Google to expect to pay half what they were paying previously despite usage increasing 300%. Isn’t it? And then to withdraw all the content is just playing dirty as there was no need to whilst discussions were taking place. It was done to bring light to the situation and to make the PRS look like money grabbers to therefore make the ‘reckoners’ of the UK dislike the PRS even more than they already do.

We all know the PRS doesn’t do too well when it comes to its public perception; we read stories about how they’re demanding money from small businesses or they’ll fine them and sometimes they don’t help themselves. But this isn’t Joe Blogg’s Mechanics, this is Youtube, a company Google purchased for $1.65 billion. Surely if they’re using the content then they should pay for it? Let’s not forget that Google made $5.7billion in the quarter of last year.  Share the wealth eh?

Another problem is that the ‘reckoners’ think that Coldplay, Robbie Williams and Kate Nash don’t need any extra money from Google as they’re no doubt rolling around in pools of cash already. Fair enough point, but how about the other artists trying to make a living from music who aren’t celebrities? Beth Orton spoke out in favour of the PRS the other day on the BBC 6Music website.  The female singer-songwriter is testament to the fact that artists rely on the royalties from their music to live:
“It’s been lovely for me because I’ve had the last two years to just concentrate on my little girl.

“That’s been from working really hard for 10 years and then being able to live off the back of what I’ve done when those little royalty cheques come in.”

Now I don’t read Heat magazine but I’m guessing Beth doesn’t grace their front cover as often as Leona Lewis does. And how about artists even more grass roots then Beth Orton? A certain Sentric Music artist had their video streamed 38,175 times during a quarter last year and would you like to take a stab in the dark of the royalties they received from that? A whopping £2.62. An average Premier League attendance watches your video and you barely get enough for a pint of lager in return.

So there you go; I hope this blog has helped a good few of you make up your mind about the Google vs PRS situation and if you hear any ‘reckoners’ chatting otherwise then please send them to this post to hopefully educate them somewhat.

On a related note another artist’s asked me about the best way to go about commissioning a music video and unfortunately I’m pretty inexperienced in that area so rather than reckoning something I’d rather send you over to the lovely Caroline Bottomley at Radar Music Videos who are pretty clued up about that sort of thing.

What I’m listening to this week; some cheeky Florence and the Machine demos I was lucky enough to acquire (there are a couple of belters; the album could be potentially brilliant) and Everything Everything.

What I’m reading this week: Charlie Brookers column. A constant source of Lol’ing. And My Chemical Toilet. Even more Lol’ing.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter as well.
Stay tuned.

sP

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~ by Sentric on March 12, 2009.

5 Responses to “PRS vs Google”

  1. Very enlightening article. Two quick questions if you don’t mind – firstly do YouTube/Google have an agreement with PPL who (I think) represent the artists/record companies and is it the same rate that PRS was getting/YT now want to pay?

    Secondly how much would your artist have been paid for a song being played once on radio and heard by 38,175 listeners as I think that’s a fair comparison to the YT example you gave.

    PS not sure Leona Lewis would ever be found on Heat – she seems far too sensible/normal a girl eschewing all that celebrity nonsense.

  2. Hi John,

    1) I’m not too sure what the situation is between the PRS and the PPL as that’s not an areas as we as a publisher have to deal with much so unfortunately I couldn’t comment on that, apologies.
    2) It all depends on what station the track was played on. Radio airplay can range from anything from £18 per minute on Radio 1 to £2.90 per minute on regional stations, to even less on smaller local stations so for an average 3 minute song they may have received anything from £3 – £50. Obviously the listenership on a station like Radio 1 would be much higher than the 40,000 (saying that though, does anyone know how many people listen to Radio 1 at 3am on a Tuesday morning?) but my argument would be that the smaller local stations have nowhere near the money available to them as Google do yet they still pay more in artist royalties.

    You’re no doubt correct about the Leona Lewis example, that was a bad choice on my part. If her personality was a dessert it would be vanilla ice cream with the vanilla taken out.

  3. I admit to not knowing as much as you obviously do about this issue, but your argument, although largely sound, comes across as one-sided.

    It ignores the fact that YouTube provides massive exposure to a generally cynical and previously difficult to reach audience. Most companies have to pay an awful lot to market their material, but musicians actually get paid to have their stuff shown around, which is an enormously privileged position. Perhaps they should consider how much YouTube costs to run and that they are benefitting from other people’s hard work.

    The fact that most artists don’t earn very much is not Google’s fault, it’s down to a system that fails the majority because (imagine a champagne fountain) the ones at the bottom only get theirs when the record companies and all the other hangers on have taken most of it already.

    I sympathise with the likes of Beth Orton, but if I work tirelessly, as I’m sure she has, for the next ten years, I will not have the opportunity to live off the royalties, and neither do most other people. This is a luxury for the artists, not a right. Even in the creative industry. Do painters get a royalty every time someone looks at their painting? The fact is the industry is changing and the ones who will be successful are the ones who are the quickest to adapt to the change.

    I’d suggest that artists who are concerned about losing their ability to continue earning money on work they did years ago get off their arses and think about doing some more work: use these fantastic tools like YouTube, that have never been available to their predecessors, to control their own destinies, build up a fan base and create a market for the live experience that cannot be replicated, and that their fans will be more than happy to pay a fair amount to attend.

  4. As a musician, of course I come down on the side of the PRS, and I agree that Google are being the big monster a bit here. But seriously, Beth Orton getting to hang out with her kid for two years on the back of royalty cheques as an argument for the PRS here? To the average punter, that comes across as next in line to “How is the investment banker gonna pay his next Lexus instalment without the bonus?” in sob stories. An artist being able to finance their next album, great, but two years hanging out with your kid, in this world, unfortunately, is a luxury, not a right.

  5. Some interesting points put across here, and although I’m going to wimpishly sidestep the original PRS vs Google issue, I wanted to applaud your observation of ‘reckoners’. I haven’t heard the Mitchell & Webb sketch but it sounds like it may perfectly sum up my feelings on uneducated babblings. Something I recently ranted about in my blog regarding the Pirate Bay trial (http://tinyurl.com/c4nl89).

    Nice to hear you bring up some facts that were rarely used / researched from this ‘battle’.

    Thanks!

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