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:
happy friday to everyone apart from @PRSforMusic@PPLUK who are demanding urgent payment of ?1600 for the 2020 licence otherwise they'll send the lads round*. the pub's been closed for much of the year, and we haven't had any music ????
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).
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.
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 … https://t.co/W3zBu9wxhcpic.twitter.com/uOHgCPLLoP
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.
Once the UK recording industry realized that UK courts would order ISPs to block websites it didn’t like, it appears that the industry, led by BPI and PPL began putting together a list of over two dozen sites that they’re asking to have blocked by all UK ISPs, even though many of the sites on the list have never been tried in a court of law or convicted of copyright infringement. Included on the list, for example, is Grooveshark, who has been sued, but has not yet been found to violate copyright laws. It may very well be true that there is infringement on many, if not all of those sites. But, generally speaking, there’s this thing called due process that allows a site to defend itself before being censored from an entire country. Just because a site has some infringing content does not mean that the entire site should be blocked — or you’d have absolutely no user generated content sites online, because the liability would be too high. The UK courts started down this slippery slope by allowing sites to be blocked, and now the record labels are just going to keep piling the list higher and higher.
The nightmarishly intertwining world of music licensing is a popular topic here, especially considering the past outlandish actions of various performance rights agencies. On top of this, there’s the multitude of different licenses, each one applying specifically to certain formats or outlets. If it’s streaming on Youtube, it needs x license and y license. If it’s streaming at Spotify, it needs x license and z license. If it’s a radio station simulcast at the station’s website, license x, y and z are needed, along with license aa. And so on.
Podcasters in the UK are running into licensing problems when attempting to clear music for their broadcasts, as PPL (who covers performance rights for recorded music, like SoundExchange in the US) is causing problems. PPL has a history of questionable over enforcement, and they just can’t let up, apparently. Phil Satterly sends in this rather sad story of a long-running Progressive Rock podcast (DRRP Radio) that is going “off the air” thanks to PPL’s thoroughly impossible demands.
Launched 18 months ago, we’ve produced 83 shows that have been downloaded over 30,000 times. We’ve covered bands from every type of prog. We’ve done special features on independent labels and festivals plus interviews with the likes of Clive Nolan, Steven Wilson, Gazpacho, Steve Hogarth, Riverside, Sean Filkins, Mystery and Godsticks. We have regular listeners from as far away as New Zealand, Singapore, Canada, Cuba and The Shetland Isles!
Unfortunately three weeks ago our service provider stopped enabling downloads of the shows. The move followed pressure from the PPL – the organisation in the UK which provides broadcast licences for the recording copyright holder (i.e. record companies).
PPL is doing what collective rights organizations do best: shut down as many artistic outlets as possible. The organization is looking for a payout, but can’t even be bothered to let people pay them, as Andy Read (one of the podcast hosts) points out.
Music licensing is a complex issue and it took quite some find to find a way to legally do DPRP Radio in the first place. We have a broadcast licence, we have a streaming licence and we have a podcast licence for the PRS – the body representing the songwriters. We do not have a podcast licence for the PPL who are now threatening legal action against podcast providers. We would happily buy a podcast licence from them… but they do not offer one!
As a broadcaster you would have to obtain permission from potentially thousands of record companies before being able to play the recorded music – a PPL licence gives you this permission and allows you to play virtually all recorded music readily available in the UK simply, quickly and legally. PPL then passes these licence fees, less our running costs, onto the performers and rights holders, similar to royalties.
Handy, I guess, except that PPL does not offer a license specifically for podcasting. Podcasters need a very limited license if using PPL’s music because the podcasts are able to be downloaded and stored. This distinguishes them (and moves them into another area of copyright protection) from radio broadcasts or other streaming services whose offerings are transient. (Not that these can’t be “trapped/downloaded.” Anyone remember cassette tapes? Yeah, same thing. Only with software.)
PPL’s lack of a podcasting license punts the ball back to podcasters and other music bloggers. If they can’t get a blanket license, they’ll have to do it the hard way: “obtain permission from potentially thousands of record companies before being able to play the recorded music.”
Obviously, this is an impossibility. And for those of you saying clever stuff like “just use original music by artists not represented by this agency?” Well, you obviously haven’t been paying attention. Rights groups like PPL and PRS will still try to collect from you. In their minds, no one plays music anywhere (not even in their hardware store/ hotel room) without playing a bunch of their stuff. It’s a self-serving distortion of reality.
And for those hoping the artists that split from PPL to form their own rights group (EOS) will result in a brighter, smoother future for all concerned? You can pretty much kiss that rosy picture goodbye. EOS has already attempted to shutter a few radio stations. The end result is another venue for artist exposure being shut down by the “white knights” of the artistic community. These agencies don’t really care about the artists on their roster. They just want to find a way to insert themselves, hands out, between the artists and their supporters.
We’ve written plenty of stories about different businesses being shaken down by various music collections societies, and the one we often hear the craziest stories about is PPL in the UK. Recently, it demanded a hardware store pay for a license. Of course, there was just one problem: the store’s owner doesn’t play any music in the store, saying that after the store is closed up for the night, he’ll turn on the radio to hear the news while he cleans up, but that he doesn’t think music is appropriate for the store. Still PPL demanded £199. After he refused to pay, PPL apparently claimed that he owed them money and passed it on to a debt collection agency, who started hounding the poor guy.
The owner, David Sleath, was finally forced to hire lawyers to try to stop the madness — and PPL’s response was to lower their demand to “just” £100, for music he did not play. Eventually, after Sleath was able to get press coverage, PPL “called him up with a grovelling apology and a promise to withdraw all invoices.” Still, he’s been stuck with legal fees, and is now trying to get PPL to pay them. It seems more and more like this is just a government sanctioned form of extortion, doesn’t it?
We’ve seen this time and time again. The various music collection societies around the globe have been trying to squeeze out more and more cash — either by extending what counts as a “public performance” or by massively jacking up the rates on existing licensees. We saw this recently in Australia, where rates went up by ridiculous amounts. To a lesser extent, we’ve seen something similar in Canada with its 1,300% fee increase. And, now, something similar is coming to the UK, where PPL massively increased a bunch of its fees:
Bills for a typical ?wedding bash will soar from £30 to £380. Pubs which can now pay as little as £8 a night will have to fork out around £10,000 a year up front for a public ?performance licence.
The fee for nightclubs will zoom from £167 to a mind-boggling £6,667 for each event.
If you’re playing along at home, that last case describes a fee increase of 3,900%.
Now, for the most part, such collectives are passing money on directly to musicians, and not to record labels or the like. So you could argue that this means that musicians make more money, so perhaps it’s okay. But that’s not taking into account the overall impact of such fee increases. They actually harm musicians in multiple ways. First, as you would expect with such a massive increase in fees, many venues simply stop agreeing to pay a license to play music. Many may just not play music at all any more, and what good does that do any musician? Fewer venues playing music isn’t helping anyone. It also means that a lot more of these kinds of venues end up going out of business. We keep hearing stories of people complaining about fewer venues being around for music these days, and you can blame ridiculous price hikes like this one for that.
We recently wrote about a UK hairdresser being fined for not paying the PPL license for playing a radio in his shop — even though he’d already been paying the PRS license. Now, if you follow this stuff, you probably know that PPL and PRS cover different aspects of collective licensing, but it strikes many, many people as being patently ridiculous that they need to pay two separate license fees just to turn on a radio in your shop. That story has a rather epic comment thread (well over 500 comments at this point), mainly involving one very, very insistent UK resident who sees no problem with this setup. Of course, he also states that if something is in the public domain it means no one’s allowed to sell it at all — so he’s a bit confused on the subject.
In the meantime, however, it appears that PPL has decided that targeting hairdressers and barbershops is in the best interests of its members. mike allen points us to the news that a second hair salon in the same town has been hit with fines. Like the first, she had no idea she had to pay two separate licenses just to turn on her radio, and thought that when a PPL person called (and wouldn’t leave a callback number) that it was an obvious shakedown scam. Unlike the other guy, this hairdresser is refusing to pay, saying that the whole thing is ridiculous, seeing as she already paid for a license from PRS.
Once again, while people who are heavily involved in this stuff understand the difference between the licenses, it’s pretty ridiculous for anyone to expect a mom & pop shop owner to do the same. All these actions are doing is convincing everyday folks just how ridiculous copyright law is — while, at the same time, convincing these shops to just turn off their radios, which helps no one. It’s such an incredibly short-sighted view by PPL.
We’ve pointed out many times just how ridiculously complex various licensing collection agencies are in the music space, especially when multiple collection societies cover the same music. The whole system seems designed to make it nearly impossible for anyone to actually play music legally. Take, for example, this situation in the UK, pointed out by reader mike allen, involving a hairdresser who had paid for a license from PRS For Music just to be allowed to turn on a radio in his shop… only to discover that he failed to pay the other UK collection society, PPL (home of the infamous CEO who insists that “for free” is a bogus concept). So even though this guy thought he was legit, he still ended up with a fine for £1,569.
In his defense, he claimed that he’d never even heard of PPL, and since he had a PRS license, he assumed (quite reasonably) that he was in the clear. Now, I’m sure that defenders of the system will quickly step up and say that it was his responsibility to find out what music licensing groups you have to hand over a tithe to each year, but all this guy wants to do is turn on his radio. For most people, it’s just common sense that you shouldn’t have to pay a fee just to turn on a radio in your barber shop. And then, once you’re informed that this totally nonsensical situation is, in fact, true, it seems quite reasonable to then assume that one license will let you turn on the radio. Finding out that you need two (or more) separate licenses just to turn on the radio (even though the radio already pays its fees and the music acts a promotion) just seems ridiculous for everyone who isn’t a recording industry exec or a long term copyright lawyer.
Thank you, David, and thank you for putting some of those pirates behind bars. I know that regrettably capital punishment was abolished in this country some 50 years ago, sad it is, but a few years in jail is probably pretty OK…
This particular quote was highlighted on Boing Boing, and gets most of the attention, but it is really just a joke (we hope). What I think is a lot more worrisome is much of what he said, which is blatantly false and misleading, in the rest of his talk. It starts with this tidbit (also in the BoingBoing post):
To the industry I would say, we would be well advised to delete two or three words from our vocabulary entirely and they are ‘promotion’ and ‘promotional value’. There is no such thing in the 21st Century. There is usage, there are benefits, hopefully often, if not always to both sides but there is no favour in it and no indulgence and no promotion.
That’s early in the presentation, but he digs in deeper later on:
The only thing I would say (to broadcasters) is ‘please, stop all that stuff about “promotion.”‘ It really becomes incredibly tiresome and it’s grossly overused and it’s very old fashioned. It should have no place in the modern era.
Yes, please. Let’s ignore the facts of what’s happening in the market, because it goes against our business model. There absolutely is promotion and promotional value. In fact, many musicians have not just recognized this, but have embraced it. The problem, of course, is that PPL’s entire setup is based on there being no promotional value of music. So it has to lie and tell people and itself that there’s no such thing, despite mounds of evidence to the contrary. To then claim being factual is tiresome and “old fashioned” isn’t just wrong, but insulting to people who actually understand the facts of the situation.
There’s also the fun part where he rails against “free”:
Now, whether it is the copyright tribunal or society in general, is it now guided by this foolish and, to me, entirely bogus concept of “for free.” And, frankly, the music industry is no different than any other business or industry or service. Sir Terry Leahy, the phenomenally successful businessman, business leader and entrepreneur, would see his business in ruins after six weeks as would Lord Sainsbury, Lord Sugar and many others, if they were having to compete with free next door or across the road.
Of course, his examples are folks dealing in physical, tangible goods. Leahy and Sainsbury (if I’m getting the people right) both built up supermarket/grocery store-type businesses. Those are businesses that have always had to compete with others at near marginal cost, because they sell commodities. They were not given gov’t monopolies, or had a gov’t “tribunal” setting an artificially high price, which PPL enjoys.
And, it seems worth pointing out that PPL appears to have put this particular video out for free, as an attempt to promote its own services. But, I thought that there was no such thing as “for free” or “promotional value.” Except, of course, when PPL does it for itself? Hypocrites.
Now, with no hostility, but with a touch of sadness, regret and frankly astonishment, I ponder, about the pronouncements of some — perhaps a small minority — of academics and various other thinkers and all the digital freedom fighters in terms of their arrogance, hostility — usually deliberate — and frankly, gross ignorance and naivete.
Um. Wait, you’re the guy supporting sending people to jail for “free” and falsely claiming there’s no promotional value to music and no legitimate concept of “free.” And you blame others? From there he mocks the National Association of Broadcasters for being against the Performance Rights Act, while using copyright itself — not realizing that just being against a performance tax is not the same thing as being against copyright. This guy basically seems to not actually be honest in his responses to anything.
Now, why is copyright so fundamental to performers and record companies? It should be obvious. It’s the bedrock of creativity, because it is a property right. Please, don’t listen to the demagogues among the digerati who, in a completely false way, try to present copyright as a monopoly right. A nonsense. Every intelligent person and a real legal person will tell you that it is a property right.
I’m sorry, but he’s lying. Flat out lying. Plenty of very smart “real legal” persons will tell you that it’s a monopoly right — including numerous copyright experts and legal scholars. I recognize that Mr. Nevrkla might not like this fact, and that it contradicts with the way he tries to run his business, but he can’t deny reality just because he doesn’t like it.
Next up, he goes on to talk about the 300th anniversary of the Statue of Anne, and reads a selected quote from Daniel Defoe, often credited as being one of the first to use the term “pirates” to describe publishers who reprinted his poems without authorization. Not surprisingly, Nevrkla leaves out many of the important details of that story, including Defoe’s statement that he actually had no problem with publishers reprinting his work and even selling it for money, as long as they “print it true according to the copy.” That is, Defoe’s real worry wasn’t that it was taking money from him, but that people were making copies that were not accurate. In fact, Dafoe then figured out how to use the “pirate” copies to his own advantage. He used the widespread copies of his work to build up his own reputation and name recognition, allowing him to make significantly more money on commissions for future works. Dafoe is, in fact, one of the earliest examples of a smart content creator who did not need copyright, and actually learned to use the lack of copyright to his advantage.
Why do you think Nevrkla would leave all that out?
Nevrkla then goes on to whine and complain about governments not just rolling over and forcing everyone to give him more money. He does this with a straight face.
Now, not only are we desperately short on the copyright protection for sound recordings. Frankly, we are short on the basic PPL public performance rights environment. Several successive governments have failed us to introduce legislation which actually is a mirror image of European law. And we have done something about it. We have taken legal action and will pursue it until we get the right and just result.
Ah, the “right and just” result is to tax all music so PPL gets paid. Even if it harms musicians and the public. This is not the “right and just” result. It’s the one that most benefits PPL and Nevrkla. Then he complains that most musicians don’t make enough money, saying that they should have “the right to proper working conditions” which seems to involve extortionary powers on the part of PPL. Of course, he ignores that the greater fees PPL gets to charge, the fewer venues are willing to play music and the more harm done by PPL. He also ignores the fact that part of the reason so many musicians make so little money is because the way PPL is structured, where it often samples performances, such that larger artists get their songs noted as being performed, but smaller artists may get skipped over entirely. The problem isn’t copyright. The problem is PPL.
Nevrkla then starts talking about copyright extension for performance rights, with a story that is almost certainly made up:
It has been said to my face several times, usually out of frustration when these people run out of arguments. So, when musicians get to their old age, can no longer play and exercise their profession, and are losing all their copyrights, just as they get old and infirm and ill. And you know what the answer is? “Let them sell more t-shirts.”
He’s being misleading here as well. I’m curious, when he’s old and no longer working for PPL, if he thinks that PPL should keep paying him for the work he did in the past? He’s making the false argument that copyright is a welfare system for musicians. It’s not. When people get old and retire, they’re supposed to have saved up money from back when they were working. And no one is actually saying “sell t-shirts” to make money in their old age. They’re saying they should have a decent business model and not expect the gov’t to tax everyone just because they did not have a good business model. That these musicians might not have done so is tragic, but is no excuse for copyright extension. And, of course, Nevrkla leaves out that studies have shown extension of performance rights go almost universally to the record labels, not to the musicians. He mentions session players and the like, but most of them were work for hire situations, who got paid for their time and that was it. They’re not getting royalties anyway. If he wants to help them, perhaps he should fix that, not lie to everyone about what’s actually happening.
Record companies need to make money. Let’s not get deceived by some of that PC nonsense out there. It is not a crime in the United Kingdom in the year 2010 to make money and make a profit. That profit is not eaten by someone. It is plowed back into the business into new talent and new music. And I am delighted to say that as an industry, we have always been proud, self-reliant, successful industry which also enhances Britain’s standing in the world.
Wait, what? Just a couple minutes earlier you were whining about how governments aren’t giving you enough money, and now you claim you’re self-reliant? I do not think that word means what you think it means. It’s really quite incredible how he spends so much time demanding more privileges from the government, trashes the copyright tribunal for telling him he’s charged too much, and then pretends they’re some sort of “self-reliant” business that has any actual business sense. His entire revenue base is from the government forcing people to give him money. He doesn’t have to convince anyone to buy, the gov’t forces them to. Sickening. And it gets worse:
Now we are not, and I hope we never will, ask for subsidies or state handouts…. And please, let’s not go down that way.
Uh, but you are. And have been, and continue to do so, and then when you don’t get them you complain that it’s not “just” and mock people who suggest you should have a better business model. Stunning cognitive dissonance.
But what we must demand is proper valuation of music and proper commercial valuation of the underlying rights in music. We cannot do DIY in copyright. For that we need the gov’t, the civil service, the UK IPO, and other authorities in Brussels. And it is their responsibility at the end of the day to do the right thing, finally, by our community too.
Uh, wait. You just said you weren’t asking for a government handout, and then immediately turn around and ask for exactly that, claiming that the government must give you a hand out and a subsidy. Your rhetorical trick is to claim that this “handout” is “proper valuation.” It’s not. Copyright is a subsidy. It’s a purposeful breaking of the free market, in order to allow PPL to charge a higher than market price. It’s not a “proper” valuation. It’s a monopoly valuation.
To all those clever, smart, smug, cynical thinkers and others: HANDS OFF OUR COPYRIGHT. Hands off our employment opportunities, our income streams, our livelihoods and our future.
Um, ok. How about hands off our privacy. Our culture. Our ability to share and communicate and to express ourselves? Hands off our wallets (via the government). Hands off our ability to use new and smarter business models.
From there, Nevrkla goes into his “thank yous,” naming lots of organizations and people who we normally see in these pages for trying to take away consumer rights and force the government to provide greater monopoly rights and subsidies. That’s where the “capital punishment” joke comes in.
Overall, however, the speech is stunning in its blatant dishonesty and cognitive dissonance, railing against gov’t hand outs while not asking for them, but demanding them, as the only “just” way. The capital punishment statement is ridiculous, but at least we think he was joking. The rest of the speech is just dishonest and misleading — and, for that reason, is much more worrisome.
If you want to be frustrated by this ridiculousness, you can watch the whole thing (for free, for the “promotional value” of it), below:
After seeing so many stories of various collection and performance licensing groups being able to boost their rates and expand their coverage over the past few years, it’s nice to see at least some pushback. IanVisits points out that, over in the UK, the Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL) has lost a lawsuit which claimed it had seriously overcharged. So now pubs, bars and restaurants can start claiming refunds. Of course, a bit annoyingly, these venues have to proactively make a claim. Contrast that to demands from such collection societies about how you automatically have to pay up for a license… The article also notes that the ruling requires new rates, with some pubs and restaurants expecting the money they have to pay to be cut in half. Nice to see that more venues might be comfortable playing and promoting music again…
Over the last few years, we’ve seen collections societies around the world do whatever possible to bring in more money — most often by either trying to hike up their fees and by trying to collect from more places/venues — even when those claims are often quite a stretch. Luis Esteves alerts us to the news that, over in the UK, one of the local collections societies, PPL, has lost a lawsuit concerning its fee hike back in 2005 — meaning that pubs, restaurants and hotels that play music in the UK may be getting somewhere around £20m in revenue back from PPL. While this is one small victory against the rapid expansion of these groups, it’s still worth noting that these groups, often with the backing of the government, are almost always rent seeking — looking for more ways to get money out of organizations and individuals.