Music

The Jesus and Mary Chain, Robert Fripp & More Sue PRS for Music Over Concert Royalties

LONDON — Scottish indie rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain and Robert Fripp, a founder member of British prog rock act King Crimson, are among a group of musicians and songwriters who have filed a joint lawsuit against U.K. collecting society PRS for Music over how it licenses and administers their live performance rights, accusing the organization of a “lack of transparency” and “unreasonable” terms for its members.

According to legal papers filed at London’s High Court, which have been viewed by Billboard, the 10 claimants are suing PRS for Music for damages resulting from what they describe as “unnecessary contractual requirements and practices.”

These include PRS placing a number of “unreasonable” obstructions on members who wish to withdraw their live public performance rights and instead strike their own direct licensing deals with promoters, venues or festivals, say attorneys.

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The claimants also accuse PRS for Music — which represents the rights of more than 160,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers — of charging higher administration fees to smaller acts than some of its most popular and highest-grossing songwriter members, thus creating a two-tier system where the most successful musicians are effectively being subsidized by the rest of PRS’s membership.

Such preferential treatment goes against the society’s mandate as a collective management organization, say the claimants. As part of their legal action, they cite internal PRS figures that, according to a spokesperson, indicate that rights holders participating in the organization’s Major Live Concert Service — which handles royalty administration for acts playing venues with a capacity of above 5,000 people — can pay an average administration fee effective to 0.2% while the wider PRS membership pays 23%, proportionately around 115 times more.

The lawsuit additionally accuses PRS of deliberately withholding information from its members about deductions from their royalty income when their rights are licensed internationally. This lack of transparency means writers are unable to make fully informed decisions about licensing their rights, say the claimants’ attorneys, who accuse the London-based collecting society of “not acting in their [members’] best interests.”

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The lawsuit is being led by Pace Rights Management, a direct competitor to PRS for Music, which licenses and administers live performance rights for composers, lyricists, songwriters, publishers and other rights-holders.

Also listed among the 10 claimants are five members of the band Haken; The Jesus and Mary Chain’s founders and core duo, Jim and William Reid; and Fripps’ King Crimson bandmate Michael Jaksyk.

In a joint statement, the ten claimants say that PRS has repeatedly refused to discuss or “constructively engage” with their complaints over a period of several years and accuse the society of straying “significantly from the principles on which it was founded 110 years ago, to the point that the organisation’s policies no longer appear to be operating in the best interests of its members.” 

“Regretfully,” the claimants’ statement continues, “we have been left with no option but to seek redress through the courts. The ball is now firmly in PRS’s court. Either they constructively engage with much needed reforms to empower and benefit writers and publishers, or they continue to resist these necessary changes, and attempt to defend the indefensible.”

“I am yet to be persuaded that the PRS operates on behalf of the membership’s best interests,” added Fripp in a statement. 

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In response, PRS for Music said that it “fundamentally” rejects the allegations and “will be vigorously defending the society against these claims.”

“PRS for Music has consistently sought constructive dialogue with PACE for many years, proposing and implementing solutions to the issues raised,” said the organization in a statement, which accused PACE of itself failing to engage with PRS to find a solution. 

“This has resulted in royalties being unnecessarily withheld from PRS members for the live performance of their works at concerts and also created complexity and uncertainty for live music venues and promoters,” the society hit back.  

Referring to the terms of its Major Live Concert Service (MLCS), PRS said the initiative was “just one part of a wide range of services” which it provides to members at different stages of their career, including songwriting camps, mentoring schemes and touring and hardship grants for new acts. Last year, the organization paid out £943 million in royalties to its members. 

“Given PRS for Music’s sincere efforts to engage constructively, it is disappointing that PACE has taken the step to issue proceedings against us,” said PRS for Music. 

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