PRS for Music backtracks on controversial live stream license fee

Dua Lipa, Sziget Festival 2018 © Rockstar Photographers
Dua Lipa, Sziget Festival 2018 © Rockstar Photographers

The UK performance rights organisation has backed down following strong criticism from artists, venues and others working within the industry.

PRS for Music, which represents the rights of songwriters, composers and music publishers in the UK and around the world, has this week U-turned on recent plans to license small-scale live-streamed events.

The new measure was first launched last week. PRS for Music announced on 27 January that PRS organisers of live-streamed events, staged in the UK, would be required to pay a flat fee if they wish to host or participate in online events generating less than £500 using a new online portal. PRS for Music said that the plans was launched in response to the “huge rise in live streamed concerts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic”. 

The announcement proved controversial among artists, venues and other industry figures. An open letter sent by members of the Music Managers Forum (MMF) and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) in December called the move “unviable” and suggested that it could potentially “strangle” innovation in music. Its signatories, which included representatives for Dua Lipa, Arctic Monkeys, Liam Gallagher, Bicep, Gorillaz and more, urged the UK performance rights organisation to reconsider its plans to introduce the tariff. 

Meanwhile, Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust, told the Guardian that the measure was “disgraceful” and suggested live streamed shows organised and performed by grassroots artists would “grind to a halt” as a result. “It is a tax in the middle of a crisis on people who need the money,” he said. “No venues or promoters are making money [from live streamed gigs] – it’s for artists or for charities they care about.”

The Online Live Concert license for small-scale events launched by the organisation introduced a new fixed license fee of £22.50 plus VAT for events with a revenue below £250, and up to £45 plus VAT for events with revenues between £251 and £500. It equates to a minimum 9% tariff on events generating less than £500, far higher than the current 4.2% typically charged on in-person shows or gigs under the current existing tariff. 

Following PRS for Music’s U-turn, venues and PRS-registered artists will be covered instead by a free licence, available “throughout the period the live sector is forced to close due to the Covid-19 crisis where the qualifying member is the performer”. This is so long as artists are exclusively performing their own works. Those taking part in streams will also no longer need to retrospectively apply for licenses for events that have already taken place, as previously outlined.  

“We are committed to making sure that our songwriters, composers and publishers are well supported, so it is essential that all our members share in the value being generated by online live streamed concerts when their songs are performed,” says Michelle Escoffery, President of the PRS Members’ Council, in a statement issued yesterday (1 February). 

“The change announced today we hope addresses many of the concerns expressed to us over the last few days. PRS will continue to listen to the views of our members in these most difficult of times.”

MVT’s Mark Davyd commented on the development in a new statement, stating, “We warmly welcome this logical revision to the previously announced tariff which has already seen hundreds of live events lost, costing performers and songwriters vital opportunities to generate desperately needed income during this crisis. The announcement of the online small-scale tariff last week, without prior consultation or discussion, was ill conceived and poorly executed. It is good to see PRS for Music acknowledging their error by immediately removing this charge.”

“We note that once again the statement is issued to press without consultation or discussion with the sector most impacted by it. A long-term solution that ensures that songwriters whose work is performed in the grassroots sector are recognised and rewarded is achievable. It requires PRS for Music to enter into serious discussions in good faith, prepared to listen and prepared to consider evidence that can result in positive, forward-facing solutions for all stakeholders.”

“Grassroots music venues want to pay the right songwriters an appropriate fee for the use of their material. The creation of songs is the beating heart of what our sector is about. Let’s work together to fix a broken system that recognises and rewards that.”

Qualifying members can obtain a free PRS licence for small-scale online ticketed events by emailing