UK Music Rights Group Demands Payment From A Pub That Isn't Playing Any Music Because It's Closed Due To COVID

from the nature-is-healing dept

It’s been a while since we last wrote about PRS for Music, the UK music collection group that is somewhat infamous for its overly aggressive demands for payment from anyone playing music anywhere in the UK. There was the children’s charity that was ordered to pay royalties for singing Christmas carols. There was the auto mechanic who was told they needed to pay up because the mechanics in the garage had a radio on loud enough that customers inside the waiting area could hear and enjoy the music. There was the horse owner, who realized that her horses were calmer when classical music was playing, and PRS declared this was a public performance and demanded she pay up. Or how about the grocery store that PRS said needed to pay up because a staff member was singing while stocking the shelves? PRS is nothing but a shakedown business. It came out that its “investigators” are actually considered to be salespeople inside the organization — meaning they have revenue targets to meet. In other words, they’ll look for anything to demand a license. Indeed, another report we had pointed out that they would call random small businesses and demand payment if they heard any music in the background.

Most of those reports came about a decade ago, but it appears that PRS for Music has continued its assholish ways. The Harlequin Pub in Sheffield hasn’t been playing music lately because it’s closed. It’s been closed because there’s a pandemic going on (you may have noticed). There certainly isn’t any live music happening at the pub. But, no matter, PRS and the other big music collection agency in the UK, PPL, demanded payment anyway:

After the pub complained about the issue on Twitter, back in December, PRS passed the buck, saying it was actually an issue for its subsidiary organization, PPL PRS (a confusing joint venture of the separate organizations PPL and PRS). PPL PRS chimed in to say they’d resolve the issue in Twitter DMs (which… seems odd).

In a later tweet, PPL PRS insisted that no businesses that had to close would need to pay for their music license.

Of course, if that’s the case, why is the organization sending out shakedown demands in the first place? Shouldn’t they have checked first to make sure the business was open and actually playing music in the middle of a pandemic?

Either way, it appears that the promises from PRS and PPL PRS to not demand payments were, like so much coming from music collection societies, a lie.

Exactly a month after PPL PRS promised not to charge the Harlequin Pub… it passed the payment demand onto a debt collection agency which began to bug the closed pub for money.

Harlequin Pub’s full comment on Twitter reads:

hi @pplprs – thanks for getting a debt collection agency to contact me i wonder if you could provide me with a list of dates/events that you think you’re owed money for please? i hope you can understand that i’m not keen on handing money out to companies for no reason. at your request, i have been chatting with someone from your company via direct message, and explained that we’ve been closed in line with national and local lockdowns, and furthermore that we cancelled all live music from march 2020 onwards. for some reason, though, this hasn’t been sufficient for you. unless your company is all of a sudden collecting fees from pubs for opening their doors, or selling take-outs (which i suspect is slightly out of your remit?) i fail to see why you think i owe you anything? i know i’m not the only venue that you are using these tactics on, and am fairly certain that the money you collect should be going to musical artists rather than bullying an industry that is on its knees by engaging debt collection agencies to collect spurious debts. anyway, a breakdown of dates and events to justify the c. £1600 fee plus the presumed impact on my credit rating would be lovely, if you can manage it. cheers – happy new year!

As I write this, there appears to be no response from PRS or PPL PRS.

I know that many musicians rely on collection societies to earn money, but these increasingly appear like traditional organized crime operations, shaking down small businesses for cash.

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Companies: harlequin pub, ppl, pplprs, prs, prs for music

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Comments on “UK Music Rights Group Demands Payment From A Pub That Isn't Playing Any Music Because It's Closed Due To COVID”

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34 Comments
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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I’ll say one thing for them, they are very consistent.
Demand money.
Demand money.
Get caught harassing people who can’t possibly owe you anything.
Oh we’ll fix it.
Demand money via debt collection arm.

Rights society is just something we call extortion when it involved copyright.

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Freddy Hort and his Cohorts says:

20 years of YOU at Techdirt hasn't stopped it!

2nd, this’ll end in due course.

3rd, billing is the way that PRS checks whether a venue is actually open and due to pay. You can’t just call up and ask: there’s no record of it. They can’t go round and see. Billing by mail is the obvious way. (Note that I ignore the debt collection as same thing.)

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 20 years of YOU at Techdirt hasn't stopped it!

3rd, billing is the way that PRS checks whether a venue is actually open and due to pay. You can’t just call up and ask: there’s no record of it. They can’t go round and see. Billing by mail is the obvious way.

Billing for a service that wasn’t provided sounds like fraud to me.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: 20 years of YOU at Techdirt hasn't stopped it!

"3rd, billing is the way that PRS checks whether a venue is actually open and due to pay"

Not only is that potentially illegal, since you’re trying to bill for a service that’s not been provided, that sounds like a very faulty method.

"They can’t go round and see"

Why not, exactly?

"You can’t just call up and ask: there’s no record of it."
"Billing by mail is the obvious way."

So… how does sending a letter give you more information on the venue’s activity than the phone call, in your deranged, diseased mind?

wereisjessicahyde (profile) says:

Re: 20 years of YOU at Techdirt hasn't stopped it!

" billing is the way that PRS checks whether a venue is actually open and due to pay"

No it isn’t. That’s simply not true. An annual review assess the status of any business. It isn’t done by sending bills out – that doesn’t even make sense.

How can you send a bill out before you know whether a bill is even due?

Anonymous Coward says:

I think you are forgetting the business model here.

If you collect money due to starving artists, and PAY THE ARTISTS, you lose money on overhead.

The only way to stay in business is to collect money NOT due, and keep it!

So, when you compare these organizations to organized crime, you’re spot on. They cannot possibly perform any legitimate commercial function and survive–they can make a profit only by extortion. There is no way to repair this defect, it is inherent in the system. So all the perversities that are reported are just symptoms: computer-less grandmothers being targeted by RIAA, Prenda Lawless. Everybody is trying to collect money that is NOT OWED, because that is the only place they can make a profit.

That One Guy (profile) says:

The mob would be proud/envious

Ah good old legalized extortion, what fun times copyright enables.

‘Pay us money or we’ll keep harassing you.’

‘We don’t owe you any money because we haven’t done anything that would require payment.’

‘Don’t care, it costs us nothing to demand that you pay us money so we’ll keep doing it until you do.’

Nice of them to show their hand like this though, if they’re willing to demand money from bars that have been shut down then it’s crystal clear that they don’t actually care if music that people need to pay for is being played, merely that the target might have money that they can demand.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 4'33" of misunderstanding

They entirely misunderstand the nature of the work. 4’33" isn’t a piece of silence; it’s a piece of environmental noise/sounds. Each performance is unique, with only the play length being the same. So it is a derivative work instead of a performative one.

As such, they are trying to enforce the wrong licenses!

But hey, at least they didn’t leave the TV on an empty channel, else they would also be violating innumerable white noise performance rights.

ECA (profile) says:

Love to see the list.

Its interesting that the agency collect $1600, but how do you divide that up for all the Musicians?
Even 1000 Locations paying in would be $1.6 million. and send that to Each of the music groups?
But what IF’ they dont PLAY music registered in the UK?
(thats another pile of worms)
Take the money and declare you have paid everyone? around the world??
Its a sham.

Rocky says:

Re: Love to see the list.

Of course it is a sham. The payouts from the collection-agencies are based on popularity (sales, plays), so if a record-label pays for more plays they get more money from the collections agencies.

And the money the pub pays may never actually go to the artists whose music they actually play if they aren’t popular enough. The whole thing is somewhat akin to a ponzi-scheme, where the collection-agencies lure in new artists to keep the money rolling in.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Love to see the list.

My understanding is that the licence cost varies wildly depending on the size of venue, the way music is played, etc.

However, a quick check of what I think is a relevant information page quotes £455 as a possible cost if you just have background music:

https://pplprs.co.uk/business/pubs-bars/

I don’t know where the £1600 comes from, but let’s face it – the whole thing is a shakedown scam that’s unlikely to reach any of the artists that are actually being played in the venue, so why wouldn’t they be increasing it to silly levels if nobody stops them?

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re: Love to see the list.

I once did a dive into the financial reports for a collection agency, it was kind of enlightening. I was astonished to find that they had bought some very expensive real estate by borrowing money from the collection, and the income from that real estate was used to quickly pay back the money they "borrowed" during that fiscal year.

So, they used the artists money to secure for themselves an income-stream of which the artists will never see a cent from since artist only get paid for the licenses or other music-related activities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Love to see the list.

I once did a dive into the financial reports for a collection agency, it was kind of enlightening. I was astonished to find that they had bought some very expensive real estate by borrowing money from the collection, and the income from that real estate was used to quickly pay back the money they "borrowed" during that fiscal year.

I’m not a lawyer, but isn’t that embezzlement? They’re using the funds recovered for their clients for another purpose – that they’re repaying the "loan" doesn’t matter (like, for example, taking a client’s money to gamble would be illegal AFAIK, even if they won and put back what they took).

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Love to see the list.

It depends on how the contract between the agency and the artists have been set up. You have to take into account that the money collected isn’t earmarked for specific artists at the time of collection. This specific collection agency can use the money to cover the cost of "administration" and "other unspecified expenditures or ancillary costs" for doing business but their fee for covering these costs must never exceed a certain percentage (for which I have no real idea how it’s calculated) of collected monies for the fiscal year, so they are off the hook since their "members" did get what they where owed.

Was it legal? Most likely for this agency. Was it morally dubious? Certainly. Can every agency do this? No.

Peter (profile) says:

Starving musians? Really?

How much of those 1600 pounds ends up with musicians?

If PRS works like all the other collection agencies, they’ll take a good share for themselves. Another good share for "unknown musicians" that happen to live abroad (and can’t be traced, mainly because PRS can be bothered to try finding them. They’ll have to keep the money, in that case.) Then rightsholders need to be paid, fees deducted.

And then there is a distribution scheme that favours some (established) musicians heavily over some other (not so established) musicians. Mainly because the former have been around long enough to tweak the system in their favour. And the pubs pay a flat fee and don’t submit playing lists that would allow paying the musicians who actually provided the music that was played.

So – how much money does a musician get from those 1600 pounds?

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