UK PRO Demands Payment From Venue Not Playing Music Due To COVID Closure
Music collection organization PRS For Music has targeted a pub in Sheffield,UK demanding payment for a license to play music, despite the fact the pub has been shuttered for the past year due to the ongoing pandemic.
Op Ed by Mike Masnick of Techdirt
It’s been a while since we last wrote about PRS for Music, the UK music collection group that is somewhat infamous for its overly aggressive demands for payment from anyone playing music anywhere in the UK. There was the children’s charity that was ordered to pay royalties for singing Christmas carols. There was the auto mechanic who was told they needed to pay up because the mechanics in the garage had a radio on loud enough that customers inside the waiting area could hear and enjoy the music. There was the horse owner, who realized that her horses were calmer when classical music was playing, and PRS declared this was a public performance and demanded she pay up. Or how about the grocery store that PRS said needed to pay up because a staff member was singing while stocking the shelves? PRS is nothing but a shakedown business. It came out that its “investigators” are actually considered to be salespeople inside the organization — meaning they have revenue targets to meet. In other words, they’ll look for anything to demand a license. Indeed, another report we had pointed out that they would call random small businesses and demand payment if they heard any music in the background.
Most of those reports came about a decade ago, but it appears that PRS for Music has continued its assholish ways. The Harlequin Pub in Sheffield hasn’t been playing music lately because it’s closed. It’s been closed because there’s a pandemic going on (you may have noticed). There certainly isn’t any live music happening at the pub. But, no matter, PRS and the other big music collection agency in the UK, PPL, demanded payment anyway:
After the pub complained about the issue on Twitter, back in December, PRS passed the buck, saying it was actually an issue for its subsidiary organization, PPL PRS (a confusing joint venture of the separate organizations PPL and PRS). PPL PRS chimed in to say they’d resolve the issue in Twitter DMs (which… seems odd).
In a later tweet, PPL PRS insisted that no businesses that had to close would need to pay for their music license.
Of course, if that’s the case, why is the organization sending out shakedown demands in the first place? Shouldn’t they have checked first to make sure the business was open and actually playing music in the middle of a pandemic?
Either way, it appears that the promises from PRS and PPL PRS to not demand payments were, like so much coming from music collection societies, a lie.
Exactly a month after PPL PRS promised not to charge the Harlequin Pub… it passed the payment demand onto a debt collection agency which began to bug the closed pub for money.
Harlequin Pub’s full comment on Twitter reads:
hi @pplprs – thanks for getting a debt collection agency to contact me i wonder if you could provide me with a list of dates/events that you think you’re owed money for please? i hope you can understand that i’m not keen on handing money out to companies for no reason. at your request, i have been chatting with someone from your company via direct message, and explained that we’ve been closed in line with national and local lockdowns, and furthermore that we cancelled all live music from march 2020 onwards. for some reason, though, this hasn’t been sufficient for you. unless your company is all of a sudden collecting fees from pubs for opening their doors, or selling take-outs (which i suspect is slightly out of your remit?) i fail to see why you think i owe you anything? i know i’m not the only venue that you are using these tactics on, and am fairly certain that the money you collect should be going to musical artists rather than bullying an industry that is on its knees by engaging debt collection agencies to collect spurious debts. anyway, a breakdown of dates and events to justify the c. £1600 fee plus the presumed impact on my credit rating would be lovely, if you can manage it. cheers – happy new year!
As I write this, there appears to be no response from PRS or PPL PRS.
I know that many musicians rely on collection societies to earn money, but these increasingly appear like traditional organized crime operations, shaking down small businesses for cash.