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Music Venue Trust urges songwriters to support an end of minimum fees on PRS gigs licence

By | Published on Monday 24 October 2016

Music Venue Trust

The Music Venue Trust has written an open letter to members of PRS urging them to ask the powers that be at their collecting society to remove the minimum rate from its licence for gigs and concerts, the so called Tariff LP licence.

PRS, of course, represents the performing rights in songs on behalf of songwriters and music publishers, licensing any third parties in the UK which wish to exploit the public performance and communication elements of the song copyright. PRS has the exclusive right to license those elements of its members’ works, which means that even if an artist performs their own songs at a show, if they are a PRS the member, the promoter of that gig still needs a licence from the collecting society.

The Tariff LP licence rate is 3% of ticket income, but there is a minimum charge of £38. The Music Venue Trust argues that that penalises grassroots venues, which will often be promoting shows licensed under Tariff LP where 3% of ticket income is well below the £38 minimum. And while £38 might sound like a nominal sum of money, for a grassroots music sector really struggling to break even, it’s an extra burden.

In its letter, the Music Venue Trust’s boss Mark Davyd writes: “You will be aware that grassroots music venues in the UK have suffered a dramatic decline; 40% of this vital resource has been lost in London, and this situation is mirrored right across the country. There are a huge number of factors resulting in this decline; 21 separate elements were identified in the Mayor of London’s Music Venues Rescue Plan”.

But, says Davyd, the minimum rate under Tariff LP doesn’t help. He writes: “Music Venue Trust believes strongly that writers deserve to be paid for the performance of their work. We are committed to ensuring that the venues we represent play a role in recognising that work and ensuring those writers are adequately remunerated for it”.

By having a minimum, small venues are paying disproportionally higher rates, he continues. “[At] venues like Green Note in Camden (capacity 60) or Louisiana in Bristol (100 capacity) … 3% of the door takings almost never amounts to £38. On a show selling £200 of tickets, where 3% would produce a fee of £6, the minimum fee is an effective rate of 19%. This is more than six times the rate being paid by large concert halls or festivals”.

He continues: “£38 may seem like an inconsequential amount, but across over 400 venues of this type in the UK, putting on over 80,000 shows per annum, the minimum fee is removing hundreds of thousands of pounds every year from the venues on this circuit. This money would not be due if PRS For Music applied an equitable rate of 3% across the board. [And] all too often, that money simply doesn’t exist”.

The minimum rate in the Tariff LP licence was originally set at £15 by the copyright tribunal in 1988, with a mechanism to allow it to increase inline with inflation each year. Though PRS is already reviewing its main gigs and concerts licence as it is, and Davyd concedes that his organisation has been inputting into that review.

However, he notes: “We have been asking PRS For Music to take urgent action on minimum fee since March 2015, and it is now eighteen months later. We have clearly explained this situation to PRS For Music, [but] their response is to wait for the outcome of the Tariff LP review. That outcome is at least nine months away, nine more months in which these venues will continue to pay significantly more money than is due”.

Ramping up the drama for his conclusion, Davyd then writes: “It is not an exaggeration to say that PRS For Music’s refusal to act on minimum fee will be a contributing factor to venue closures during that nine months. We don’t believe that writers, publishers or performers would find it acceptable that a music venue closes because it cannot meet the economic demands of minimum fee”.

And finally, noting that many artists and songwriters have already reached out to ask how they can support the struggling grass roots venues sector, David says: “As a matter of urgency, unilaterally ending the collection of minimum fee and replacing it with the collection of 3% would have significant impact”.