Interview: PRS, the UK's music royalty collection society
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
PRS for Music is the UK's music royalty collection society tasked with working on behalf of copyright holders, specifically authors and music publishers. Founded in 1914, the PRS is a non-profit organisation with 350,000 UK businesses holding PRS licenses. The society works in conjunction with PPL which collects fees on behalf of the copyright holders of the actual recording. So, if a cover version of a song is played on UK radio, PRS collect a fee on behalf of the original writer and publisher, whilst PPL collect a fee on behalf of the record company of the cover. In a recent Wikinews interview, Paul Campbell, founder of Amazing Radio, an unsigned UK radio station, lambasted PRS for their "barmy standard contract" and their outdated equipment. That interview can be found here.
|The music industry is changing and the way we use music is continually changing|
Wikinews reporter Tristan Thomas interviews PRS, following up on Campbell and others' criticism as well as finding out about future plans.
WikinewsFirstly, thank you for the time in doing this interview.
WNLast year, you were involved in a high profile dispute with YouTube. Can you briefly explain to our audience what that was all about and the final outcome of it?
PRSPRS for Music was the first collecting society in the world to license the YouTube service, meaning if music videos were watched online then our members – who created them – would receive a small royalty payment. When we went to renew the licence that YouTube held we couldn’t agree as to how much should be paid and exactly what should be covered within it. We believed that music had become a much larger part of the YouTube service and that YouTube/Google should reflect the increased use of our members' creative talent in the amount they paid.
The great thing is that we kept talking to YouTube throughout the dispute and managed to reach an agreement in September which meant that the videos could be accessed again by UK YouTube users and that our 65,000 songwriter, composer and music publisher members would be paid.
WNHow many artists do you represent and how much did you collect during 2009 for them?
PRSWe represent 65,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers. We haven’t released our 2009 figures yet but in 2008 we collected over £600m for them. The main sources of revenue come from recorded media (CDs, DVDs etc), international use, public performance use and use in television, radio and online.
WNPaul Campbell in a recent interview with us said the following: "PRS has a barmy standard contract for using their members' music online. It requires us to pay them a fixed percentage of ALL revenue from that website – whether or not the revenue is derived from their members' work. So if we had 100,000 songs from non-PRS artists on amazingtunes.com, and one song from a PRS artist, we'd have to pay them a percentage of the revenue from ALL 100,000 songs. I.e., we'd have to take money out of the pockets out of non-PRS artists to pay to PRS. That would be immoral." How do you respond to that?
PRSAnyone using music in a commercial way – such as a radio station – is required to obtain the permission of those that created the music. This could be numerous writers, publishers and a record label for each song, possibly in different countries around the world. By obtaining a PRS for Music and PPL licence in the UK you are ensuring you have those permissions for over 10million musical works. Obviously much of the music used on radio comes from non-UK writers who may not be members of PRS for Music. Radio and television stations give us almost 100% accurate reports of their music use through their own playlists; this data then enables organisations such as ours to work out who should be paid and how much. PRS for Music has 144 agreements in place with similar societies around the world, resulting in us representing almost 2 million writers worldwide. If French, American, Spanish, Australian or any other writer’s music is used we will pay the respective societies so they can pay their members.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Is PRS' standard contract "barmy" as Paul Campbell asserts?
Similarly a writer of musician may be 'unsigned' by that doesn’t mean that they shouldn't earn from their music when it is used by others. Many bands, writers and performers are currently unsigned but by being members of PRS for Music they ensure that they can begin earning vital royalties that allow them to continue with their musical career.
WNHow does the PRS ensure that artists outside the UK are properly compensated when their music is used within the UK, such as Thai or Chinese restaurants paying their PRS dues and exclusively using music which is from outside Europe?
PRSAs mentioned before PRS for Music has agreements in place in over 90 countries around the world to ensure that when music is used the right creators are rewarded. The system – built up over the last century – works both ways and when UK music is used internationally, PRS for Music receives royalties from foreign societies so we can pay our members. In 2008 £139.8m was collected from UK music use abroad, with the UK being one of only a few net exporters of music in the world.
WNThere have been a few cases in which PRS have been forced to apologise, exemplified by the threat of prosecution and a fine towards "singing granny" Sandra Burt, a shelf-stacker who sung to herself whilst stacking shelves. How has PRS moved forward from these incidents in order to ensure they do not happen again?
PRSIf we have made mistakes we will of course put our hands up and say so. For example when we were approached about the Sandra Burt case – by a journalist incidentally and not Sandra – we did give out slightly incorrect advice, although the questions were a little ambiguous. Once we realised our mistake we contacted Sandra to explain that she wouldn’t need a licence to sing to her customers and offered our sincere apologies. As an organisation we are very quick to admit where we get things wrong and ensure they are put right. We’re proud of our record with our customers and currently have 350,000 businesses choosing to use music in the UK.
|Once we realised our mistake we contacted Sandra|
To put the complaints in context we have only have 1 for approximately every 5,000 customer contacts we make. This is an exceptionally low ratio and there are many firms who would be envious of a record like this. During 2009 our complaints fell by 50% and we appointed an independent ombudsmen who could handle any complaints if they were not resolved internally. As of January 2010 no complaints have needed to be passed on to the ombudsmen.
WNHow does the PRS work with musicians who are not signed to major labels, may make music available for download via their own websites or MySpace, and do not have the financial resources to protect their copyright?
PRSMany of the PRS for Music membership is not signed to a major record label and we represent creators from all genres of music in the UK and abroad. By joining PRS for Music, which only costs £10 deferred to your first royalty payment, you ensure you can begin earning royalties whenever your music is played, performed or reproduced. We have worked hard to license such sites as YouTube, MySpace, Spotify and Sky Songs to name a selection to ensure our members can be rewarded when their work is used.
Our membership team also work hard to support our creators holding showcase events, offering advice of how to get their music used as well as legal and financial advice.
WNFinally, what future plans do you have as an organisation in order to further protect and enhance your members work as new technologies emerge over the next few years?
PRSPRS for Music will continue to be at the forefront of licensing new digital and online services to ensure creators are paid. We aim to get the balance right to ensure new products and music services can launch and develop, but that also they pay for the music they use.
The music industry is changing and the way we use music is continually changing (it always has) but we’ll still be at the forefront enabling people to use music whenever they want, and rewarding those that have created that music.
WNThank you for taking the time out for this interview. Good luck for 2010.