The Performing Rights Society (PRS for Music) has recently announced that artists must now purchase a licence in order to conduct a live-streamed performance in the UK.
The newly-launched Small Online Live Concert Licence applies to “DJs, classical and popular music as well as theatre and variety shows”, with costs varying according to the stream’s revenue. Shows accruing up to £250 will pay a flat rate of £22.50, with this fee doubling for shows taking £251-£500. The £22.50 fee even applies to free shows.
PRS have announced that they will not retrospectively require a licence for live-streamed events that took place prior to the launch. For live events with revenue over £500, a tariff between 8% and 17% gross revenues will be imposed – a significant jump from the usual tariff of 4.2% for in-person performances.
The music industry has overseen an understandable and considerable rise in live-streamed gigs over the past 12 months, which PRS believes “are a form of video exploitation.” For bands and artists who lost a significant chunk of their income once the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to touring, live-streamed performances have become a crucial means to stay afloat, as well as providing a key link to fanbases.
This licence was met with widespread condemnation when it launched on January 27, from grassroots venues, artist representation and UK trade bodies alike.
In a statement, Music Venue Trust – a UK charity which has spent much of the pandemic fundraising for failing music venues – warned of the implications this could have on the grassroots sector and claimed to be blindsided by the tariffs: “The live music industry, including grassroots music venues, artists and promoters, is in crisis mode and pulling together. The team at MVT have been in regular correspondence with the live team at PRS for Music throughout this crisis on how we can work together to ensure everyone at a grassroots level emerges from this crisis and we can all get back to work. At no time during those regular conversations across eight months has anybody suggested that a new tariff for streaming would be created. We have not been consulted on such a Tariff, advised of it, or even notified of it prior to this press release being issued.”
Meanwhile, the Music Managers Forum released a joint statement with the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), urging PRS to not act “unilaterally”. “Some artists promoting their own shows would be obliged to pay up to 100%+ of gross revenues to PRS,” the statement continued, “even if performing their own original compositions for free, leaving artists out of pocket, even if fundraising for charities during the pandemic.”
PRS for Music’s CEO, Andrea C. Martin, defended the scheme: “We recognise the importance of providing simple licensing solutions wherever possible and the licensing portal for small-scale online events is an example of this. We are continuing to work hard to agree a range of licensing options for providers of larger events, including a proposed discounted rate during the pandemic. This is a part of the market which has seen exponential growth and is itself constantly evolving, meeting the expectations for worldwide blanket licences is alone no small feat, but we are committed to finding solutions which ensure members can be paid fairly when their works are performed.”