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Bands and musicians sue British copyright company over live performing rights

Guitarist Robert Fripp and Jim and William Reid from Scottish rock band The Jesus And Mary Chain are among those joining the High Court action.

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PRS for Music sign on a glass door

Bands and musicians are suing a British copyright company over the licensing of live performing rights.

Guitarist Robert Fripp and Jim and William Reid from Scottish rock band The Jesus And Mary Chain are among the nine songwriters who have filed court papers against PRS for Music at London’s High Court.

The industry body collects and distributes royalties and then provides payments to songwriters for the performances or broadcasts of their music, including at live shows.

Fripp said: “I am yet to be persuaded that the PRS operates on behalf of the membership’s best interests.”

The action, which has also been brought by PACE Rights Management, who work with the licensing of live performances, claims that the musicians have suffered “loss and and damage” due to the actions of PRS for Music and alleges that smaller acts are subsidising larger acts.

The court documents allege metal band Haken along with Fripp’s group King Crimson and The Jesus And Mary Chain were “obstructed or impeded from benefiting from the reduced fees or deductions and/or faster payment which they would have enjoyed had they not been inhibited from direct licensing their rights”.

Haken, made up of Ross Jennings and Richard Henshall, who are part of the lawsuit, along with the other two groups had asked to “withdraw their live public performance rights”.

Another claim is that PRS for Music “discriminates against” bands and singers, whose music features at smaller venues and not pop and classical concerts.

In a statement, the claimants say “collective rights management make perfect sense for songwriters and composers” but believe PRS for Music has “strayed significantly from the principles on which it was founded” in 1914.

“The ball is now firmly in PRS’s court,” they said.

“Either they constructively engage with much-needed reforms to empower and benefit writers and publishers, or they continue to resist these necessary changes, and attempt to defend the indefensible by spending yet more of the members’ money on legal costs supporting policies that make the members less money.”

PRS for Music rejected the allegations and say the claimants “misrepresent the policies” of the copyright collective and it will be “vigorously defending” itself.

Toyah Willcox holding a glass, with her husband Robert Fripp
Eighties pop star Toyah Willcox with her husband Robert Fripp (PA)

It also said that they have “engaged with PACE on these issues for more than five years” and “exist to protect the collective interests of all the songwriters, composers and publisher members we represent fairly”.

“We have worked extremely hard to simplify our processes in the interest of our members, which PACE has consistently failed to comply or engage with,” it said in a statement.

“This has resulted in royalties being unnecessarily withheld from PRS members for the live performance of their works at concerts and also created complexity and uncertainty for live music venues and promoters.”

It adds that it acts in the “best interests of its members and in particular ‘smallest writers'”, citing help via mentoring and workshops along with touring and hardship grants.

“PRS for Music does not make a profit on the royalties it collects – once costs are deducted, all royalties flow directly through to the music creators and rightsholders we represent,” the statement also said.

“Last year, we announced a record low cost-to-income ratio of just 9.2%, ensuring more royalties (£943 million) were paid to more members.

“Given PRS for Music’s sincere efforts to engage constructively, it is disappointing that PACE has taken the step to issue proceedings against us.”

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