Bullying allegations for PRS as music rights row continues

The Performing Right Society has agreed to develop a code of practice after allegations were made that it was "bullying" charities and small businesses into paying licence fees for playing music.

In a House of Commons debate on 12 November, Alison Seabeck, Labour MP for Plymouth Devonport, said the society's actions had given her "cause for concern".

She pointed out that the average cost of a licence from the PRS for sports clubs was £369 a year and that one treasurer had "received numerous very aggressive phone calls and a letter from the PRS threatening enforcement within 14 days".

Intellectual property minister David Lammy said the society, a not-for-profit membership organisation that represents 60,000 people in the music industry, had agreed to establish a code of practice to deal with complaints.

He said he had also asked the society to reflect on the breadth of organisations it approached for fees, and that what constituted public performance needed reviewing. "If the system is to work properly, it must gain the confidence of the public," he said.

Cuharities currently have to pay for licences from the society, which collects royalties for composers and lyricists. But they are exempt from paying royalties to Phonographic Performance Limited, which represents the interests of music producers and performers. The Government has proposed ending the PPL exemption.

The Association of Charity Shops warned this week that an end to the PPL exemption could land charity shops with a £900,000 annual bill for playing music in-store (Third Sector Online, 10 November) and called for the exemption to continue. Charity-run hospital radios would also be affected.

Seabeck told the Commons: "Many charity shops use music to support an attractive retail environment, in the same way as any retail concern, except of course they divert all their profits to charitable purposes.

"According to the charity shops, the current government consultation on music licensing threatens to add substantial costs to their outgoings. That money could only come from funds earmarked for vital causes. Surely that is not a desirable outcome."

Small businesses, she added, had "inundated" her with similar concerns.

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