Don’t Trust Anyone. Including Your Royalty Collections Society…

We talked to PRS for Music, the British rights society, and they told us an independent review cleared them off any wrongdoing.  And that this was an old accusation. Then again, why would an artist concoct such an elaborate hoax about getting ripped off?

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The latest confessional comes from British violinist, composer and actor Bobby Valentino, whose problems date back to a ‘successful’ lawsuit in 2002 against a band that refused to pay him for a famous, integral violin melody that he composed.  That is, the Bluebells, for the 1993 hit, “Young at Heart”.  In this excerpt, he tells interviewer John Fleming about suspiciously low or non-existent payments, and a shortfall of over one million pounds.

All of this is happening as the European Commission is trying to fix a rat’s nest of more than 250, overlapping royalty groups across the continent.  In many cases, the EC reports that artists have to wait three years to receive their payouts, if they get anything at all.  And, that money is often placed in risky investments in the meantime.

“I won the court case,” Valentine said. “The publishers were ordered to disclose their statements and volunteered their statements.  But they are, to be charitable, surreal.  ‘Young at Heart’ seems to have been the only pop song in history that didn’t earn anywhere near the expected royalties.  On average, the figures are about 5 percent of what you’d expect them to be.”

Which means, a lot of information and accounting was suspiciously missing, according to Valentino.  And this not only involved publishers, but also some suspicious cooperation with the PRS.

“There was a very high-profile TV ad for VW, which should have made about £80,000 [$125,000] for the writer on just one run, from February 14th to March 31st, 1993.  The PRS statement for that first run shows less than £2,000 [$3,124] to the writer. And there was a second run of the same ad from October 5th to December 4th, 1993.

“That should have made another £70,000 [$109,000]… There are no royalties shown for that at all.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The song gained some traction in the US, including college radio plays and various TV plays.  But none of those royalties were accounted for, much less trickled back to Valentino.

But the real international successes happened in Europe.  The song was a smash in Denmark, Portugal and Italy, for example.

“It was a big hit in Italy. PRS claimed the writer was only due £31. There was a friend of mine in a bar in Italy and he asked about the song and the whole bar just started singing it – in English.”

And the sad story just goes on, and on, and on, and on.  Valentino produced publishing statements from EMI, which were apparently judged to be in error; publishers that owed Valentino eventually used the PRS numbers to account back to him.  And, curiously, these suspiciously-low accounts matched to the penny.

“PRS’ excuse is that every UK radio station failed to report to them correctly, every UK TV station failed to report to them correctly and every overseas rights society failed to report to them correctly.”