UK Music Managers Contact PRS Over ‘Unworkable’ Livestreaming Rates

Niall Horan being filmed for his Nov. 7 live livestream, which sold some 127,000 tickets.
Conor McDonnell
– Niall Horan being filmed for his Nov. 7 live livestream, which sold some 127,000 tickets.
The show was watched from 151 countries, which would require licences from the PROs in all of them.

UK performing rights society PRS has proposed a tariff for livestreamed concerts, which seems to raise more questions than it answers, at least according to many artist managers, who have sent a letter to PRS demanding a proper consultation involving all stakeholders.
The letter is co-signed by more than 50 music managers, united under the Music Managers Forum (MMF), including representatives of Dua Lipa, Biffy Clyro, Liam Gallagher, Bicep, Fontaines D.C., Gorillaz, Yungblud, and Arlo Parks, as well as a group of member artists and songwriters of the UK’s Featured Artists Coalition (FAC).
OMAM performing during  Live From Reykjavík.
Martin Bagnol
– OMAM performing during Live From Reykjavík.
People from 65 countries bought tickets for the virtual Airwaves.

PRS wants to introduce a increasing tariff rate, from 8% to 17% of gross ticket sales, which “will make livestreaming unviable, for both the smallest emerging artists and the biggest superstar acts,” the letter states.

By comparison, the PRS tariff for a live in-person concert is 4% to 4.2% of gross ticket receipts (less VAT). 
If PRS charges these amounts retrospectively, as it intends to do, it will cause “financial distress” for “artists and their wider teams especially in the midst of a pandemic,” according to the letter.
It states, “In a year when live shows have effectively shut down, and with more uncertainty ahead, livestreaming has presented artists with one of their few opportunities to perform and connect with their fans. 
“The larger most-successful events involve significant production costs, and have provided a lifeline to crew and other industry workers. At the other end of the scale, livestreaming has been increasingly important for emerging artists and those operating in niche genres.”  
The MMF asks PRS to reconsider its approach, and to engage “in a full and transparent consultation.’
According to the letter, it is also unclear whether PRS is even in a position to mandate a global licence for livestream events hosted in the UK.  
According to Adam Elfin, co-founder of Direct Licensing organization PACE Rights Management, it can’t. He gives radio stations as an example, who also need to acquire licenses in every country they broadcast a live performance into. 
“It’s not where the physical performance happens, it’s where the public experience that performance. They’re Public Performance rights, not Performance rights,” he told Pollstar.
“If you want to do a livestream, you’re going to need a license from the PRO in every single territory you’re going to sell tickets in, or you have to geo-block that territory,” he said. There’s the possibility that companies hosting past livestreams will retrospectively receive mail from the world’s various PROs, pointing out that a license to broadcast the stream in their territory was never acquired.
“We’re not just talking about the PROs on the publishing side, it’s a recording, therefore you don’t just need a PRS and GEMA license, you also need a license from PPL and GVL, again, you need that in every country. Additionally there’s a synch involved, so you also need a license from the publishers, writers, artistes, and potentially record companies of the rights being performed,” Elfin continued, 
“To recap, if you want to sell tickets worldwide, you’ll need a license from every PRO on the publishing side in the world, a license from all the publishers and songwriters of all the works performed, licenses from all the PROs on the master side around the world, and you also need licenses from the performers and potentially the record companies of the artistes performing.”
Insisting that it’s the location of the performance – the upload – which is the licensing location, and not the location of the public performance – the download–, is a dangerous position to take, Elfin continued. It would mean they the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Tencent, ByteDance, etc could argue that the location of their servers was the licensing location. 
“And if those servers are not based in the UK, why do they need a license from PRS? If PRS’s argument is that the location where the audio-visual recording was created is the licensing location, then it would be consistent with that logic that any PRS writers rights on an audio recording can be licensed globally by the PRO in the recording location, and if that location isn’t the UK, then PRS can’t license them. PRS’s current position creates more issues than it solves,” said Elfin.  
PACE believes the solution to ensuring livestreamed concerts can happen with all the necessary licenses in place, is direct licensing. Elfin said, his company could help platforms, promoters, and artists with that.
Pollstar reached out to PRS for Music, which stated, “PRS’s right to license its members rights is not limited geographically and we are working with our society partners around the world to obtain the necessary mandates to grant as geographically broad license as possible. This may of course vary, based on the specific content that is performed.”
It also shared a response to the MMF letter with Pollstar: “PRS for Music members, alongside many others across our sector, have been very badly impacted by the shutdown of live music this year. 
“We welcome the many initiatives to move live concerts online and PRS for Music has designed an Online Live Concert licence which will allow the necessary rights to be licensed. The proposed pilot licence scheme is still evolving. 
“As conversations with our partners are active and ongoing, it would not be right for us to provide further detail or comment at this stage while we await their assessment and feedback. 
“Of course our primary role is to protect our members’ rights and to ensure they are paid fairly for their work, which is more important than ever now. We hope that these conversations will progress quickly.”
The MMF acknowledged, that “songwriters must be compensated and livestreams licensed properly. Indeed, the vast majority of our members are songwriters or their representatives.”
The letter continues, “for the sake of all artists, songwriters and the wider industry, it is crucial that this new format is allowed to grow and thrive.  Charging artists up to four times the live rate strangles rather than nurtures this innovation.  
“For some of the smaller artists who have just covered their costs livestreaming, it will be impossible to find this additional money retrospectively.”