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PRS backtracks a little on its new licence for small-scale livestreamed shows

By | Published on Tuesday 2 February 2021

PRS For Music

UK collecting society PRS yesterday backtracked a little on its previous announcement regarding the licensing of small-scale livestreamed shows. Self-published writers who perform only their own music will now be able to access a free licence for their own livestreamed performances.

PRS has come under fire twice over its plans for licensing ticketed livestreamed shows on behalf of the songwriters and music publishers whose songs are performed.

Its proposals for licensing larger shows were deemed “unworkable” by the Music Managers Forum and the Featured Artists Coalition last year, while a new licence launched last week for smaller livestreams was also criticised for demanding a percentage of ticket money more than double that which would be charged on a real world show.

In both cases, the society was also criticised for not widely consulting artists, songwriters, managers, venues and promoters before deciding on what rates to charge.

With the licence for small-scale shows, PRS is charging £22.50 plus VAT for ticket sales of up to £250, and £45 plus VAT for ticket sales of £251-£500.

Artists who are PRS members who perform their own songs, which they entirely wrote, technically still need to get such a licence even when they stage a livestream themselves. This is because when a songwriter joins PRS, they assign all the performing rights in their songs to the society.

Of course, the monies paid would ultimately be distributed back to the artist as the writer of the songs, but a PRS commission would be charged and further cash could be lost to VAT.

There’s also the added complication that some of the monies generated by the livestreaming licence are being allocated to the mechanical rights in the song, which are technically administered by MCPS rather than PRS. And not all self-published DIY artists are members of MCPS.

Plus, the money would be stuck in the system for at least a few months – none of which makes sense, especially for artists performing livestream gigs with incredibly tight profit margins.

With that in mind, PRS announced an amendment to its small-scale livestreaming licence yesterday, stating: “If a member wants to perform an online ticketed live concert exclusively of their own works, where they will receive all the royalties due, they can obtain a licence at no cost to them”.

The free licence will only be available to self-published writers because, for any writer tied to a publishing deal, some of the monies due on the licence would be paid to the publisher not the writer. PRS is also only guaranteeing the free licence option “throughout the period the live sector is forced to close due to the COVID-19 crisis”.

Nevertheless, MMF and FAC said yesterday that it was “pleased that PRS For Music have listened to calls from artists, managers and others across the industry. It is a welcome step forward that writer-performers playing their own material will be exempted from paying for a licence at small-scale livestream shows”.

Subtly acknowledging the criticism PRS has received over its livestreaming proposals in recent months, the society also said yesterday that it was “accelerating its ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders on an interim rate, while the physical live sector is closed, for online concerts in the coming weeks. We are committed to agreeing a discounted rate for larger concerts as soon as possible to make these licences available to the market”.

Noting that, the CEOs of the MMF and FAC – Annabella Coldrick and David Martin respectively – said: “We welcome that PRS will now begin a dialogue with artists, managers and other key stakeholders about the licensing of larger livestream events, and commit to agreeing a discounted rate while ‘in-person’ shows remain closed. Decisions around collection and distribution of revenue impact cross-sections of the music industry and cannot be taken on a unilateral basis. Therefore, we look forward to a full and inclusive consultation on these matters in the days and weeks ahead”.

The Music Venue Trust, which was also highly critical of last week’s announcement regarding the new licence for small-scale livestreamed shows, also welcome yesterday’s slight backtrack.

The organisation’s Mark Davyd said: “We warmly welcome this logical revision to the previously announced tariff which has already seen hundreds of live events lost, costing performers and songwriters vital opportunities to generate desperately needed income during this crisis. The announcement of the Online Small Scale Tariff last week, without prior consultation or discussion, was ill-conceived and poorly executed. It is good to see PRS For Music acknowledging their error by immediately removing this charge”.

However, he added, “we note that once again the statement is issued to press without consultation or discussion with the sector most impacted by it. A long term solution that ensures that songwriters whose work is performed in the grassroots sector are recognised and rewarded is achievable. It requires PRS For Music to enter into serious discussions in good faith, prepared to listen and prepared to consider evidence that can result in positive, forward-facing solutions for all stakeholders”.

“Grassroots music venues want to pay the right songwriters an appropriate fee for the use of their material”, he concluded. “The creation of songs is the beating heart of what our sector is about. Let’s work together to fix a broken system that recognises and rewards that”.

Although livestreaming has been around for two decades, it’s only since the COVID shutdown began that livestreamed shows have started to be regularly monetised, which is why questions around licensing the use of songs at such shows is only now being properly considered.

Plenty of questions remain about what elements of the song copyright are actually being exploited by a livestream and also whether collecting societies like PRS are able to offer global licences for livestreamed shows, or whether societies in other countries might claim royalties on tickets sold in their markets.

It’s partly because of these complexities – in addition to the debate over what rates are fair – that managers in particular are keen to be part of the debate with organisations like PRS as these new licences are evolved.