PRS for Music Faces Songwriter Lawsuit Over Live Performance Admin Rates, Withdrawal Terms

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A live performance from the Jesus and Mary Chain, whose founders are suing PRS for Music over its policies for live performance royalties. Photo Credit: Mr. Rossi

PRS for Music is facing a lawsuit from songwriters including the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim and William Reid over its policies concerning live performance royalties.

The complaint, levied also by King Crimson founder Robert Fripp, Pace Rights Management, and others, was just recently filed across the pond, per regional outlets including the Guardian.

Established by Crockford Management founder Paul Crockford and First Contact Agency founder Adam Elfin, Pace bills itself “as a disruptive vehicle to deliver desperately needed transparency” in the public performance space.

And in the U.K., that means targeting the operations of PRS for Music, which reported record collections and member additions for 2023. Pace by its own description specializes in assisting composers and songwriters in withdrawing their live performance rights in favor of negotiating direct licensing deals. As Pace sees it, the multifaceted move bypasses admin fees and increases both the speed and size of payments.

Building on those pertinent background details, the mentioned outlet’s summary describes a legal challenge to a system that allegedly affords commercially prominent PRS for Music songwriters far better live performance terms than lesser-known professionals.

Regarding the hard numbers behind the claim, “popular concerts” venues currently pay a minimum of four percent of “gross box office receipts,” with the sum divided “to give each work a value for the number of seconds that it was performed,” per PRS for Music’s website.

On the other hand, a “Major Live Concert Service” option is available for shows in venues with capacities of at least 5,000, the same website shows. That comes with a per-setlist admin fee of £125, compared to a 23 percent cut (capped at £1,250 per event) of the above-noted tranche for “pop and classical concerts.”

Boiled down, that allegedly means Major Live Concert Service members are being charged materially less on live performances by PRS for Music – to the tune of an average effective admin rate of 0.2 percent. Besides this alleged discrepancy, Pace and the other plaintiffs have accused PRS of using red tape to dissuade members from exploring direct licensing.

Though it perhaps goes without saying, reported December of 2023 talks between PRS for Music and Pace failed to bring about the changes sought by the latter. In a statement, the defendant pushed back against the lawsuit and reiterated that its policies (including for member withdrawals) are set by the board and the Members’ Council.

“PRS for Music has consistently sought constructive dialogue with Pace for many years, proposing and implementing solutions to the issues raised,” PRS for Music indicated.

“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, which has resulted in royalties being unnecessarily withheld from PRS members for the live performance of their works at concerts. It has also created complexity and uncertainty for live music venues and promoters,” concluded the Nexus portal developer.

Back in April, Blur drummer (and longtime politician) Dave Rowntree filed a separate complaint centering on PRS for Music’s unmatched “Black Box” capital. And earlier in June, the entity lowered its admin rate for multi-territory online royalties.