Wednesday 7 March 2012

Is workplace music licencing 'double taxation'?

Back in September 2011 Jeremy posted a very interesting blog titled "two may be company but can one be a crowd?" - which attracted a wide range of comments from readers here - on how copyright should define the use of private radios in the workplace - and the interpretation put on the current legal provisions in the UK of the use of radios in public places by PPL and PRS, the UK's recorded music and music publishing collection societies.

Now Andrew Harrison, the boss of the RadioCentre, the trade body that represents the commercial radio sector, has called on the UK government to change the current regime so that those who listen to or provide radio services in public places do not need a an additional music licence beyond that already paid for by the broadcaster. Harrison was speaking at the Westminster Media Forum about government plans to review the Communications Act, and whilst his talk included pleas to de-regulate the radio sector and remove the current 'genre' licensing governing the music commercial radio stations can play, saying this was "a blunt instrument in an era of infinite music choice available through smartphones, downloads and streaming" , it was his comments on music licensing that caught my eye.

Harrison said his members felt there was now a "disproportionate cost to our business of copyright for licensing music in the digital age", and focussed on the fact that any business owner wanting to play the radio on their premises, even just for staff, needed their own (additional) licences from PPL and PRS, in what Harrison dubs "double taxation". An interesting battle could ensue - with the RadioCentre calling for a change in public performance licensing rules at a time when the collecting societies seem to be pushing more strongly than ever for workplace music licences.

You can download the speech in full here


Jose Mora said...

It is a good way to start the day realising you are not alone in the world.In 1999 I defended "Mr.Harrison's opinion" on a research paper in the Master of Intellectual Property from Alicante University.
I was just an student and obviously nobody took my opinion seriously.More than 10 years later It seems somebody has arrived to the same conclusion. There is hope.

Anonymous said...

1. It's not a tax
2. The money goes straight back to the songwriters, composers and artists who create the music that radio stations use to run their businesses (imagine a radio station with no music...)
3. Those songwriters, composers and artists wouldn't be able to keep creating if they weren't fairly renumerated for the use of their work
4. The restricted acts being licensed to a broadcaster are different to those licensed to a workplace playing music.

Harcourt said...

One hopes PRS and PPL will avail themselves of longstanding UK case law PRS v Turner and PRS v Harlequin Records and not allow themselves to fall victim to the US situation where there were exemptions introduced to allow some establishments to play music without a licence. The collecting societies need to make more effort in the PR war, call on their composer and performer members to help them (accompanied, in PPL’s case, by a much better data base and much fairer distributions) and accept that better transparancy will help the societies work more positively WITH their licensees. While we know that smashing up other people’s furniture doesn’t make your own furniture look any nicer the UK Radio Centre should look to the Continent and the USA for examples of collecting society practices that will cast the PRS in a better light!

Mull said...

As I understand it the right to broadcast music on the radio has already been paid for by the stations, and consequently the artists have rightly been rewarded for their efforts.

But it is both arcane and duplicative to make businesses pay again to listen to these broadcasts, and to do so irrespective of whether the radio can be heard by customers

Phil Shaw said...

No one is suggesting rights holders shouldn’t be compensated, but what is the right price and mechanism? Surely there should be a lower rate for radio listening, where the broadcast right has already been paid?

By charging people to listen in their workplace, you are actually hindering the artist AND the station. Faced with ever rising tax bills and reducing turnover in a tougher economic climate, the temptation is that the workplace won't listen at all.

[Received 8 March 16:10]

Andy J said...

@anonymous 10.37.
I think double taxation is a very fair description of a system in which requires separate licences to transmit and receive music. Your comment implies that the artists etc would not otherwise get any royalties from broadcasts of their music. That of course is not the case as the broadcasters pay fairly handsome fees for their licences.
As was pointed out in the previous post Ben referred to, what is being distorted (in my view) is the 'making available to the public' right. By definition broadcasting is making something available to the public. The licensing of businesses as if they were supplementary broadcasters rather than as end users (like people in their private homes) is clearly 'double taxation' in that no additional value is added during the process of broadcast and receipt. It is somewhat comparable to paying road tax and also paying tolls to use specific public roads.

[Received 8 March, 15:41]

Anonymous said...

The 'double tax' argument was made in a Kenyan criminal case of 2010 (the case was dismissed on other grounds though) where public transport vehicles are also required to pay a license to the Music Copyright Society Kenya for playing the radio while they carry passengers on daily commute (including tourist vans) not to do so is a criminal offence under Kenyan Law!

[Received 8 March 13:56]

john walker said...

The payments are tax-like , they involve redistribution . The payments are not directly linked to the use of a individual piece of music and a individual right holder , they are based on 'sampling'.
Quite a bit of the money collected is paid to people who did not make/produce the actual music played.
Taxes do not have to be paid/collected by the tax office to be taxes.