PRS for Music has written to it's members saying it is beginning legal action against online music streaming platform SoundCloud after "five years of unsuccessful negotiations". The PRS says:
"SoundCloud actively promotes and shares music. Launched in 2008, the service now has more than 175m unique listeners per month. Unfortunately, the organisation continues to deny it needs a PRS for Music licence for its existing service available in the UK and Europe, meaning it is not remunerating our members when their music is streamed by the SoundCloud platform.". The PRS letter goes on to say: "We have asked SoundCloud numerous times to recognise their responsibilities to take a licence to stop the infringement of our members’ copyrights but so far our requests have not been met. Therefore we now have no choice but to pursue the issue through the courts."
The letter explains that whilst SoundCloud has taken down some of PRS repertoire, a recent list of some 4,500 musical works which the PRS say were being made available on the service and which they were asking SoundCloud to licence or remove resulted in this: "SoundCloud decided to respond to our claim by informing us that it had removed 250 posts. Unfortunately, we have no visibility or clarity on SoundCloud’s approach to removing works, so it is not currently clear why these particular posts have been selected by them given the wider issue of infringement that is occurring. Ultimately, it is SoundCloud’s decision as to whether it starts paying for the ongoing use of our members’ music or stops using these works entirely."
The letter from Karen Buse, Executive Director, Membership and International at PRS for Music, ends by saying "We remain hopeful that this matter can be resolved without the need for extended litigation. Members will appreciate that this is now a legal matter and our ability to communicate around it is therefore limited by the legal process. However, we will try to share information and updates whenever we can."
SoundCloud has issued its own statement responding to the letter saying: “It is regrettable that PRS appears to be following this course of action in the midst of an active commercial negotiation with SoundCloud. We believe this approach does not serve the best interests of any of the parties involved, in particular the members of the PRS, many of whom are active users of our platform and who rely on it to share their work and communicate with their fanbase.”
“SoundCloud is a platform by creators, for creators. No one in the world is doing more to enable creators to build and connect with their audience while protecting the rights of creators, including PRS members. We are working hard to create a platform where all creators can be paid for their work, and already have deals in place with thousands of copyright owners, including record labels, publishers and independent artists.”
SoundCloud's content is currently uploaded by creators, marketing companies, record labels and even music publishers - and whilst the PRS letter notes "When a writer or publisher becomes a member of the Performing Right Society, they assign certain rights to their works over for us to administer, so it’s our job to ensure we collect and distribute royalties due to them" this move certainly may irritate some of the PRS's own membership who see a real value in SoundCloud. A court case would almost certainly look at the European take on 'safe harbours' and how SoundCloud's take down policies would fit with that - but going forwards, and if SoundCloud is going to adapt to a streaming model more akin to Spotify, its hard to see why it would want a war with the PRS at this juncture.
The letter can be found here - an interesting analysis on MusicAlly here, and more comment and thoughts on Music Business Worldwide here - not least on the position of Warners Music Group and Universal Music here - presumed equity holders in SoundCloud - but through their publishing divisions - members of PRS for Music as well.