The UK’s Performing Rights Society (PRS) is a non-profit organization, setup to ensure that the music industry continues to make plenty more profits on an on-going regular basis. For years now, they have collected license fees from companies that use music as part of their businesses, such as pubs, clubs and restaurants. Some might argue that these type of companies benefit commercially from playing music to the public, so a license fee, although not particular popular, can be absorbed as a legitimate business expense.
However, recently the PRS has been getting more and more aggressive in its quest to funnel cash to its paymasters. It now sees every UK organization – commercial or otherwise – as a legitimate target to intimidate with threats of legal action, should they dare to play a radio, TV or DVD within earshot of the public without a license. Small businesses playing the radio for personal entertainment to pass the working day, charities, tea rooms, corner shops and even community centers are being targeted by this outfit. Bizarrely, they are currently going after the British police, who have been refusing to pay. It’s clear, they care about just one thing – money.
To get this money the PRS go after people like the 61 year-old mechanic Paul Wilson, who has worked alone at his garage for 23 years since he was 15. He can’t afford the PRS license, so now he has to work in silence. “When I was first contacted by the PRS I thought somebody was having a laugh with me,” he said. But really, this is no laughing matter. After the demands for money, Mr Wilson told the PRS to take his radio to prove he wasn’t listening to it, but the PRS warned that the police could come round to do spot checks. Meanwhile, the garage next door to Mr Wilson also received a PRS letter, so they are maintaining radio silence too. Just regular people trying to earn a living, being chased down for money to listen to a radio at work. It’s astonishing.
When the small guy gets hit by these type of issues it really annoys people in the copyright debating community. However, if you really want to widen the debate and spread some really bad PR, it’s going to take tactics which show how low you are prepared to go. For instance, you could go after a charity trying to raise funds via a tea-room, discover their staff radio can be overheard, and demand money from them.
But it is possible to further outrage people. And this is what these type of collection outfits are doing, by widening their campaigns to start going after the softest most impressionable target in the country – kids. Last week we reported how the MPLC, a Hollywood royalty collection outfit, (illegally) demanded money from kindergartens in Ireland, so that the kids could watch DVDs there.
But going after children isn’t exclusively an MPLC tactic, the PRS are doing it too. Part of the claim against the tea-rooms mentioned above was that the kids there needed to be licensed to sing carols in front of the public and now, to add insult to injury, the PRS ‘non-profit’ copyright cop is going after a kid’s non-profit community center in Glasgow, Scotland. The Yoker Resource Center is faced with a £3,000 bill, it if wants to carry on using its TV, radio or CD player, that is.
Elizabeth Busby, the after-school supervisor at the center said: “We can’t afford to pay this money. Although we have a TV license for the center, under these rules we cannot let all the kids watch it.”
Wondering (like the rest of us in the sane world) why people have to pay twice or more for using the same product, Ms Busby added: “If the children are watching a DVD then I have gone out and paid for it, so whether it is one person or twenty-five I still paid for it. It’s not as if I’m buying pirate copies or downloading them illegally. Soon it will be the Halloween party and what do we do for music?”
Asked to comment, the PRS declined. I’d like to think that the silence is down to shame, but I doubt it. I’ll leave you with some comments from Steve Pendlebury, writing in The Bolton News:
“Radio stations pay large amounts of money to licensing organizations PRS and PPL for the music they play, and music has been on the radio for many years. During the war, there were programmes like Workers Playtime and Music While You Work. Now, many radio stations have features about workplaces. If the PRS force people to switch their radios off then how are these stations going to survive?
Music has to be heard before people go out and buy it.”