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A group of UK songwriters and composers, including King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, have initiated a court action against their collective management organisation, the Performing Right Society (PRS), in a bid to overhaul the implementation of procedures and policies which they claim are prejudicial to their interests and to the interests of PRS Members more broadly.

The writers said the legal action centres around three key points, in relation to the licensing and administration of Live Public Performance Rights by PRS, which they list as follows:

  • The unreasonable and unnecessary obstacles that PRS presents to writer members who wish to withdraw their Live Public Performance Rights, and to directly license those rights.
  • A lack of transparency and withholding of information by PRS about the deductions suffered by Writers from their royalty income when their rights are licensed internationally.
  • The preferential conditions offered by the’ Major Live Concerts Service (MLCS), which are in direct conflict with PRS’ position as a collective management organisation – creating a two-tier system where the most successful writers are effectively being subsidised by the rest of the PRS members.

The writers said that following many years of PRS “refusing to discuss or constructively engage” with the matters in dispute, they determined that legal action is now the only possible recourse. They have been joined in this action by PACE Rights Management, specialists in direct licensing Live Public Performance Rights – the right to publicly perform a composer’s music and/or lyrics by way of live performance.

It is not the first time that the freedom of writers to withdraw their rights from PRS has been the subject of legal action. In 1994, U2’s songwriters took legal action to challenge PRS’ “anti-competitive and restrictive behaviour” on this issue and the resulting “inefficiencies, delay and excessive expenditure” that they incurred. A 1995 Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC, now renamed the Competition and Markets Authority) report about PRS, noted that, “U2 said that for live events in some countries the amount received was only 50% of what it should be and it took up to three years to come through.”

In a collective statement, the claimants in the legal action stated, “Regretfully, after years of PRS refusing to discuss or constructively engage with these issues – including the withdrawal of Live Performance rights, the lack of transparency around international deductions, and the operation of the Major Live Concert Service – 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 by spending yet more of the Members’ money on legal costs supporting policies that make the Members less money.”

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