PRS\PPL Music Licensing - Know Your Rights

Discussion in 'General Business Forum' started by Azimuth, Aug 2, 2017.


Is this a worthwhile thing to do for small business ?

  1. Yes, it's time to fight back.

    17 vote(s)
  2. No, you're wasting your time.

    6 vote(s)
  1. Azimuth

    Azimuth UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    17 5
    Hello All

    I have recently been looking into PRS\PPL licensing and fairly enraged at the situation. I feel it is tantamount to a scandal that PRS\PPL have managed to enrich themselves by using a very questionable interpretation of the law to demand payment and I would say deliberately obfuscating the legality of the situation to continue to collect fees. The act as judge, jury and executioner and have no more authority than a private citizens.

    I am thinking about starting an action group to address the situation. I think this is an issue that has fairly large impact on small business owners and one that as a small group we can address together and through the means of a website and petitions can get some clarity and a much fairer situation for all.

    The intent of the law was never to stop mechanics listening to Radio 2 in their garage or a factory playing some 80's hits during the night shift. I would wager that the originally legislators would be horrified to find this was now the case.

    To give you a picture of what I plan to achieve from the simple to the complex :

    1) Get clear unbiased legal information about the situation. There are many parts of the law which are unclear and a lot of information online is marketing material from "PRS for Music" which makes millions from convincing business that they must pay in every possible scenario. The definition of "public performance" is critical here. Conveniently PRS for music clarifies it as pretty much every activity you could possibly imagine and even famously tried to fine a lady who was singing to herself. There is very little legal precedent for a lot of there claims although PRS outright claim it does. I could find no such judgement.

    2) Create resources that can help people play music and avoid paying PRS\PPL license fees. At a simple level a playlist of music that is exempt might be useful, could we petition Spotify to support such a playlist and officially approve it as exempt from PRS\PPL fines. From my research the copyright they are enforcing expires after 50 years. This would mean a large backlog of music was unenforceable.

    3) Petition the government to clarify the legal interpretation of parts of the law or indeed change the law.

    I imagine there are 1000's of us who are sick of this but are totally isolated against a company that has a huge resources and legal power. Online is an impressive propaganda exercise which does nothing but to promote themselves and maximise profits.

    Is there anyone with me? Use the poll to let me know.

    I am very technically adept so I can take care of a lot of the web stuff if needs be. Any assistance\expressions of support would be helpful at this stage.
    Posted: Aug 2, 2017 By: Azimuth Member since: Aug 2, 2017
  2. Dimo

    Dimo UKBF Regular Free Member

    105 18
    Good luck! The licensing of music at work is a bit of a joke. While I agree that people need paying for their art and creativity, exactly how do PRS and PPL licenses ensure that royalties go to the right, due people? Is it just blanket distribution? Is some outfit keeping tabs on every playlist broadcast on every single radio station and online channel? Okay, so -

    At work does a licensee have to state daily which radio station is being listed to? Surely not! Therefore how does the PRS/PPL have any notion of what fees are due to which artists?

    What about YouTube? Suppose an almost infinite YouTube playlist is run at work via the internet? Oh, and I heard a story of an employee who sat in his van at lunchtime with the vehicle's radio on and was duly informed that he needed a licence because others could hear it. o_O
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: Dimo Member since: Jul 23, 2007
  3. Matt Burns

    Matt Burns UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    1 1
    I agree, it appears to be a total scandal. If you look at their 2016 financial statements (available on their website) they collected £621.5m in royalties, of which, only £527.6m of that actually got paid to the copyright holders.
    Most of the missing money evaporates in "costs" of which the main chunks are £39.7m on people (salaries) and £22.4m on "outsourced services". Insane amount of money. In 2016 they only had 632 employees which means this non-profit are paying an average salary of £62,816!

    The highest paid director (Robert Ashcroft?) was paid £962,000 in 2016 (not including the £25k pension contribution).

    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: Matt Burns Member since: Aug 3, 2017
  4. XRN

    XRN UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    1 0
    Because of PRS/PPL I have removed all music playing from my shop. It is incredibly boring to sit here hour after hour in silence. The fan helps. When people ask me why I tell them about the exorbitant fees I had initially paid to PRS/PPL and they were shocked. I'd love to play quiet soft music, but what can be done?
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: XRN Member since: Aug 2, 2017
  5. Dimo

    Dimo UKBF Regular Free Member

    105 18
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: Dimo Member since: Jul 23, 2007
  6. Bob Dunn

    Bob Dunn UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    16 0
    Im not affected by these bandits as I dont have any use for music in my business but a lot of years ago I was part of a group where a so called Government authority decided they would impose what their interpretation of their legislation was on us. A few of us got together and paid a barrister to examine the legislation and tell us what we could and could not do and what actual authority this Government department had over us. Surprise surprise.... They had virtually no authority to impose any of their "regulations" on us. Was great karma telling them where to get off.
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: Bob Dunn Member since: May 9, 2016
  7. Azimuth

    Azimuth UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    17 5
    Thanks for the replies. I think one thing that gets me is that there is a total lack of information outside of PRSforMusiccom. I have spent many hours researching and still have more questions than answers. Every conversation in regard to this topic is proceeded by a chaotic storm of opinions raging from "tell them to f** off" to "Just pay them".

    This situation benefits PRS for Music no end as when individuals feel lost and confused and without any concrete answers from any authority without a financial interest they end up just going for the safest option either paying or working in silence. This has resulted in a de facto tax on professionals playing music period. At no point do I imagine that our elected representatives intended for this to happen. It is more a combination of legal wrangling and aggressive business practices.

    I see the action group taking on the following three pronged approach :

    Educate :

    Give people information, trying to assist them in making a decision free of financially motivated coercion. This could involve recommending playlists of royalty free music or royalty free radio. I see these suggestions come up on forums but there is no central repository of this information.

    Can you listen to classic FM ?

    Can we get Spotify to identify PRS free playlists?

    What albums can be played free of these threats.

    Legal :

    Discuss and confirm the following.

    I) There is no legislation that states music played in a workplace or even for that mater in public has to result in payment to a copyright holder. The term used in the 1988 legislation is "public performance". There are many court cases however where PRS has tried to extend the definition of this term to include as bigger demographic as possible. However these court papers are so old that they cannot easily be found and researched. One famous case involves playing a gramophone in a factory of 600 employees in the 1940's this was years before the 1988 legislation and is very different from a man with a van scenarios.

    II) There is a case to be argued that the PRS license has already been paid. BBC, YouTube, Spotify have all negotiated and paid a PRS for music license to broadcast. Subsequent demands are then made to individuals lower down for "re-broadcasting", this is highly dubious in my opinion. Does the BBC PRS rebroadcast license only apply to non-professionals ? I don't think so, so what law is being broken. The BBC license covers your employees. So why would do you need to pay again ???

    Political :

    The current situation is that a single agency has a near 100% monopoly on performance music rights. They are abusing this position to demand payment from anyone who listens to music etc... in a workplace. As far as I can tell they don't provide choice or information about how to avoid the fine or evidence that you have breached it.

    It appears that simply "listening to music" is enough for them to conclude you are due a fine and then aggressively demand payment.

    This is clearly against consumer choice and needs to be addressed.

    The current situation is untenable and I think MPs would be willing to hear us out on this.

    PRS for Music are fond of quoting court cases from the early part of the 20th century before YouTube, Before Spotify, Before the Internet, often before radio music was widely available. It is about time I think that they were put there position out clearly in the 21st century for all to judge and debate. I imagine the conclusion would be very different as if it was not the BBC should surely be obliged to mention that listening at work to XXX song could incur additional costs like they do with phone ins.
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: Azimuth Member since: Aug 2, 2017
  8. DavidWH

    DavidWH UKBF Enthusiast Free Member

    1,384 249
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: DavidWH Member since: Feb 15, 2011
  9. Azimuth

    Azimuth UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    17 5
    Interesting I have not seen that before, however I would dispute that in a situation of 4 employees in a commercial space listening to music was a "public performance" and should actually be paying PRS zero. PRS has a very good marketing department and articles like this (published on their website) are there to promote PRS as a force for good as they probably know that if people started to challenge them the whole thing would fall down like a house of cards.

    I don't believe there is any legal case that PRS has won unless there is a genuine member of public involved apart from the 1940 case with a factory of 600 workers and that involved the owner playing gramophone recordings ... so slightly different.

    However thank you for useful information and hopefully when we do have a website listing prices will help people make a informed choice and not overpay like you say.
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: Azimuth Member since: Aug 2, 2017
  10. DavidWH

    DavidWH UKBF Enthusiast Free Member

    1,384 249
    This subject has been discussed before, and @The Byre has made some excellent comments from the opposite side of the fence. Perhaps he could enlighten you as to what PPL/PRS does for artists/composers.
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: DavidWH Member since: Feb 15, 2011
  11. Azimuth

    Azimuth UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    17 5
    I think this is missing the point of this discussion. We don't dispute that PPL\PRS has rights to enforce the copyrights of their clients. The problem is that many businesses dispute their interpretation of copyright laws. What they do with the money they obtain isn't hugely relevant to the legal discussion although I concede it has some relevance to a political\moral one.

    Does the music industry require an effective levy on playing music in the workplace in order to survive and if so is the best way to do it through an unaccountable agency, I think it is time the public decide with full exposure to the facts.

    I am aware of the large amount of resource that PRS puts into PR campaigns to promote their mission and I am quite frankly unmoved, as a large part of that mission seems to be to perpetrate the misunderstanding that they have the unquestionable legal right to levy a fee on anyone playing a radio\music in a workplace. This is completely false but I see it perpetrated in many places on the internet from the BBC to even government websites.

    A lot of people are under the misunderstanding that PRS and PPL are the same as the TV license authority or some sort of government body but just for music in a workplace. They are not and have never been. They have no more government backing than I do.

    The rot is widespread with government literature and the BBC perpetrating falsehoods such as :

    "The law requires businesses that play any recorded music in public to get licenses from the Performing Right Society (PRS), which collects fees and pays royalties to composers and their publishers."

    - From the BBC Magazine.

    This is absolutely false and I am of the opinion that a lot of this information is distributed by PRS and their agents, this quote alone from a organisation that people trust should identify that there is a problem here.

    In case people don't know it is totally legal to play royalty free music or music that was copyright which has now expired publicly without charge and the BBC should let the public know this.

    In addition PRS for Music does not have exclusive rights to all copyright music, yes they have a near monopoly but it should certainly not be taken as read that all music copyright is managed through them. For instance all Welsh Language music rights have a different agency.

    In theory if you listened to BBC radio and BBC radio wales that had some songs in welsh you would need to pay PRS for Music and Potentially the Welsh Manament company as well. The situation as it stands now is quite frankly absurd.
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: Azimuth Member since: Aug 2, 2017
  12. The Byre

    The Byre UKBF Ace Free Member

    8,522 3,296
    If you guys only knew what the F. is really going on!
    Then do it! Stop baitchin and do it! You're so full of mouth, then hire a few f**king bands, write a few thousand songs with arrangements and hire musicians and studios and do it!

    Boo Hoo! They want money for their music! It costs tens of thousands to make the simplest song and you want to use it for free. So can I get your website for free? Hey, I saw it and it looked good, so will you give me one just like it for free?

    How about giving me a free car? You sell cars, so give me a free f**king car, Mother F.

    It's a bit like Getty Images and the fact that they want money for their pics! You want what you have seen on line for free! Well that ain't gonna happen!

    Listen, Mother F. I saw an elephant, so how about giving me a f**king free elephant! Where's my free elephant, Mother F.?

    "It's an outrage! I have to pay for something that cost you hundreds of thousands? You spent millions getting that act on the road and you expect me to pay? Are you F. Crazy? It is my right to exploit your commercial product that cost you staggering sums of money and to do so for F-all."

    Tip - you want to have background music in your business - hire a f**king band!

    Now compare the costs!

    Oh look! All these workshops are happy to pay for tools, lifts, software, taxes, water, electricity, but ask them to pay a pittance for something that costs hundreds of thousands or millions to produce and it's a f**king outrage!

    It costs c.a. £6,000 to produce a Mercedes E-Class, so I want you to go to your local Merc dealership and offer them £6k for a 200D. The day they say yes, is the day you have the right to steal my property!
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: The Byre Member since: Aug 13, 2013
  13. ADW

    ADW UKBF Enthusiast Free Member

    1,129 171
    You can happily use my website and grab whatever else you like if you allow me to get paid best part of a million for over seeing that option.
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: ADW Member since: Oct 25, 2007
  14. Azimuth

    Azimuth UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    17 5
    @The Byre what your response has done has highlighted why we need impartial information available. Heaven forbid they ask someone like you, who was previously mentioned as someone who might have interesting insight but now proceeds to aggressively let forth the most ludicrous and off topic rant about a free car. The german deal transaction you use as comparison is not in any way connected to copyright law in relation to sound recordings. There are many things in life that cost money to make but we do not legally have to pay. The reasons for this demand knowledge in areas of politics, law and history. I suggest you study these areas to gain further insight. To just post your previous rant you have used technology which cost billions to make for nothing... how wonderful.

    In regard to "just f*** do it" that is exactly what we are doing here. Thank you for the encouragement.
    Posted: Aug 3, 2017 By: Azimuth Member since: Aug 2, 2017
  15. The Byre

    The Byre UKBF Ace Free Member

    8,522 3,296
    The BBC pays for music. Every time they play a song, that fact is logged and the owner of that song gets paid. They get paid by you, as a license fee payer. In exchange for that payment, you have the right to enjoy their output for TV and radio privately. Other radio stations (most of whom are owned by Bauer Media) pay from their advertising revenue. They gain a commercial benefit from the music, so they pay for that benefit - and they pay a great deal.

    If a shop plays music to ease the stress of shopping and put customers in the mood to relax and (hopefully buy something) they too gain a commercial benefit from that music.

    Music is not free. It is somebody's private property.
    Musicians and others, such as labels, distributors and other rights holders have, in the UK, got together and formed/joined performing rights societies to cover all aspects of remuneration. There are c.a. 30 such societies world-wide and it is the members who pay the wages of those working for these societies.

    If you own the intellectual and mechanical rights to a popular recording, these rights payments form a significant source of income.

    The music industry across Planet Earth asks for tiny sums of money, in exchange for the commercial use of a product that costs a great deal to produce. Roughly speaking, a recording that hopes to make it into the top 40, costs about £250,000 to produce and market in the UK and about $3m in the US.

    Just recording a song at normal commercial rates costs between £50,000 and £100,000. If we strip out all fees for almost everything and just do things for 'mates-rates' you are still looking at costs of about £15,000.

    The equipment is expensive. The desk can cost over £300,000, a good microphone costs £3,000, the average is about £800 and you will need lots of them. The monitoring system will set you back at least £10,000 in the mix room and the same again for the mastering suite. Try building a sound-proof studio with a typical 100 sq m live room and see what it costs. Now go out and buy a concert grand, a vintage Hammond organ and all the other bits and bobs that go to make up a studio. Few commercial studios get built for under £1m. Most recently, Gorbals Sound in Glasgow cost £2m, before that, British Grove cost £7m.

    Neither is ever going to make a profit. These are labours of love and simultaneously, works of art. These are high churches, built by dedicated people to their god - music.

    And that's the cheap end of the music business. Marketing is the expensive end.

    There was a time when having a hit record set you up for life. Back in the 50s, a popular record could earn the artist £10,000 from the UK market - enough to buy ten middle-class, detached houses in a good area. By the 60s, you still got c.a. £10,000, but that was enough to buy six houses. Fast forward to today and guess what? Yes, it's still about £10,000.

    Back in then, nobody cared too deeply about performing rights, as music really still paid OK. Now every penny counts!

    Records are produced as visiting cards, to enable live touring and a very lucky few get to earn from the recording, via sales and sync' licenses for things like advertising.

    That's why all these old rockers are having to put away their Zimmer frames and dust off the Fender Telecaster - touring is all they have left. They need to tour to put food on the table.

    Yes, there are a select few that have earned staggering sums of money. But that is a very select few and only those who were in the game during a certain period and were able to stick at it for decades, sleeping in the back of Transit vans and playing university canteens and pub back-rooms. It takes at least ten years to become an overnight success - usually longer.

    The rest just get a couple of hundred for doing the line-up of shame on 'Never Mind the Buzzcocks'.

    You are whining about the PRS being unrepresentative of the people and not democratically accountable. Of course they are not - they are not supposed to be accountable to you - they are accountable to me! That's me and all the other members who have IP registered with them.

    My lawyers and my accountants are not there for your benefit, but for the benefit of my company. The same goes for the PRS.

    My company pays the wages of the CEO of the PRS - my company and thousands of others. If we don't like his wage package, we are perfectly within our rights to toddle into the AGM and table a motion to have the wages altered. It's none of your business!

    The PRS is there to represent those members of the music business that have joined the PRS and the PPL and have registered material with them. They also represent all the interests of musicians that have joined other performing rights societies around the World, such as Harry Fox, GEMA and others.

    You have no more right to complain about the PRS not representing your rights, than I have the right to complain that your lawyer is not representing my rights.

    You don't have to buy your music from the PRS. You can commission it yourself, you can go to other bodies, you can buy royalty free music, you can stand in the middle of your shop and serenade the customers yourself.

    What you can't do, is steal my property and commercially exploit my property.
    Posted: Aug 4, 2017 By: The Byre Member since: Aug 13, 2013
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  16. Azimuth

    Azimuth UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    17 5
    I think you are to some extent constructing a straw man argument here, which is exactly my problem with the whole issue.

    "Music is not free. It is somebody's private property." I'll take it the sentiment you are trying to express is :

    "Copying and playing of music is restricted by copyright law"... We are not disputing that.

    In exchange for that payment, you have the right to enjoy their output for TV and radio privately.

    I would like to see the agreement the BBC has that states their broadcast can only be listened to legally by non-professionals. I feel this would not stand in court as it is practically unenforceable and is without precedent. Can you name one other scenario where a public broadcast can only legally be listened to by a sectioned demographic of the listening public. If this is the case broadcasts should almost certainly come with a disclaimer "If you are listening to this at work further fees may be payable"

    "The PRS is there to represent those members". Yes, which is why using their resources they have influenced the public perception of the situation so heavily in their favour. This is the situation I am looking to address. Providing information that is not biased in favour of PRS and their members. Would you be happy if the RAC was the only resource of car insurance information, demanded extremely high fees and then decreed that you were due no payment when you did have an accident. PRS has every right to represent their members but we do not have to swallow it as you seem to be advocating.

    "You don't have to buy your music from the PRS. You can commission it yourself, you can go to other bodies, you can buy royalty free music, you can stand in the middle of your shop and serenade the customers yourself."

    Making the above information more readily available is one of the things we are trying to achieve, the above statement is not understood by many small businesses that receive PRS\PPL demands. Since the public forum is dominated by PRS literature and even inaccurate information from places like the BBC and gov that have been sourced from said PRS literature it is time that the business community gets together and builds are resource in regard to this.

    You last statement "You can serenade the customers yourself" would almost certainly require a license from PPL. I say again, the current situation is clearly absurd.
    Posted: Aug 4, 2017 By: Azimuth Member since: Aug 2, 2017
  17. UKSBD

    UKSBD Not a real duck Staff Member

    9,144 1,710
    I just don't understand this.

    If I am not a licence payer and I walk along the road and hear some music being played from a radio am I technically breaking any copyright laws?
    Posted: Aug 4, 2017 By: UKSBD Member since: Dec 30, 2005
  18. The Byre

    The Byre UKBF Ace Free Member

    8,522 3,296
    Of course not, for a variety of reasons!

    No, that should read - "Copying and playing of music is restricted by copyright law, because it is somebody's private property!"

    As a society, we have decided that music should be freely available, but not that it is available for free.

    You don't get to watch movies for free. You can't go to your local Vue movie house and demand to be let in for free, you can't watch Sky, Amazon, Netflix et al, without paying a subscription, you can't watch a BR disk without buying it and you can't watch TV without paying a license fee and having advertising.

    Amazing entertainment is today available for pennies. £10 and you can shove on the old 3D glasses and go to the local Vue and be immersed for two hours of brilliant entertainment, as them space-monkeys do unspeakable things to Americans.

    Wait a year and for the same price, you can buy the BR disk, sit up close to the old 4K, crank-up the 5.1 Genelecs and annoy the neighbours. Wait another year and you get to watch it for free, but only in stereo and with several lavatory breaks.

    But what you can't do, is to commercially exploit that movie. You can't show it in your pub or shop. The commercial exploitation rights belong first to the movie houses, then the BR and DVD distributors, then to the pay-per-view, then subscription channels and lastly the 'free-to-air' channels buy them in giant packages of a few hundred movies, for two years.

    If this chain of exploitation is not there and the movie studios do not get a return on the vast sums it costs to make 'War of the Planet of the Apes' then the next film will be a hi-def video, featuring a man in a gorilla suit in Studio 8 at the BBC.

    So why do you think that music should be different?
    Posted: Aug 4, 2017 By: The Byre Member since: Aug 13, 2013
  19. Bob Dunn

    Bob Dunn UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    16 0
    My home has a tv licence. It allows me to watch live TV and listen to radio broadcasts whereever I am in the UK. If I go to the barbers and he has BBC Radio 2 playing in the salon then I cant see why the shop has to have a PRS licence to let me listen to the output that I have already paid a licence fee for and am entitled to listen to.
    Posted: Aug 4, 2017 By: Bob Dunn Member since: May 9, 2016
  20. Azimuth

    Azimuth UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    17 5
    Very good point!

    Yes this actually has been debated many times and a lot of legal heads have suggested they are in agreement that they are actually charging for the same thing twice. Not that any business owners would be made aware of this in PRS literature and I don't believe it has ever been challenged in court. The concept is described as a "New Audience" in copyright journals. It is my opinion that the PRS agreement with the BBC would cover their entire audience not just the non-professional audience and therefore business owners can say that listening to the BBC at least requires no fee as it has already been paid by the BBC.

    If the BBC has a license to broadcast to "non-professionals" only then that triggers many other questions around how one broadcast to an individual audience using the public airwaves that owned by the British people.

    Could I write a contract to a train station that said you can play this music ... but only to women. Then proceed to demand all the men pay a separate fee for using the station ?. On examination the whole thing is riddled with flaws.

    One of the tasks of the action group should be to seek clarification of this. Could we for instance obtain through a freedom of information request the contract signed by PRS and the BBC and could this provide clarification ??
    Posted: Aug 4, 2017 By: Azimuth Member since: Aug 2, 2017