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PRS’s new live music tariff delayed by direct licensing discussions

By | Published on Wednesday 4 April 2018

PRS For Music

The implementation of the new live music tariff from PRS has been halted, according to IQ, because the revised system for concert promoters paying royalties doesn’t have a provision for direct licensing.

The song rights collecting society announced last September that it had secured the backing of numerous trade bodies representing different strands of the live sector for an overhaul of the way concert and festival promoters pay royalties to the songwriters and music publishers with an interest in the songs performed at their shows. That followed a long review of PRS’s live music tariff, which was originally put in place in the 1980s.

Despite all that agreement, the proposed new tariff needs to be approved by the UK copyright tribunal, the specialist court that considers collective licensing issues. As part of that process, any other interested parties had an opportunity to object to the proposal. It now emerges that PACE Rights Management requested ‘permission to intervene’, with the copyright tribunal subsequently stating that the agency had sufficient interest to do so.

PACE has been working with a number of artists who have chosen to go the direct licensing route with their live activity. This means that, when artists are performing their own songs at their own shows, rather than having the local collecting society provide a licence allowing a public performance of those works, the artist does a direct deal with the concert promoter.

This allows the artist to negotiate a bespoke royalty rate, and also removes the commissions charged and delays in payment that can occur when monies follow through the collective licensing system, especially on a multi-territory basis.

European collecting societies, which in essence take ownership of at least some elements of their member’s song copyrights, are obliged to allow those members to opt-out of the society’s licences on a category basis. So PRS is obliged to allow a member to switch to direct licensing their songs in the live sector if they so wish. Artists would usually do this while on tour and then switch back to collective licensing when not gigging.

Although this partial opt-out system has been in place for a long time, it’s only relatively recently that certain artists have started to go that route when on tour. It has caused various issues where support acts have not gone the direct licensing route or, even more so, when direct licensing acts play festivals, because collecting societies don’t usually have a system in place to deduct royalties collected directly from what they charge the promoter.

It seems that PACE’s objection was that PRS’s review of its live music licensing system was an opportunity to deal with those issues, but that hadn’t in fact occurred. According to IQ’s sources, reps for PACE and PRS both appeared before the copyright tribunal to present their respective arguments in February. As a result, the court requested that PRS reopen discussions with the other stakeholders that had taken part in its review in order to consider a live music tariff that better takes into account direct licensing.

Those discussions are apparently now underway, with another copyright tribunal hearing on the matter scheduled in for 2 May.