"The smaller PRS members are subsidising the larger members to get these preferential conditions”: Fripp, Mary Chain sue the Performing Rights Society

(Image credit: Jean Baptiste Lacroix / Getty)

A number of songwriters including Robert Fripp and Jim and William Reid of the Jesus And Mary Chain are suing the PRS over its handling of royalties for live performances.

Their main gripe is that the Performing Rights Society – which has a near monopoly on royalty payments in the UK - gives preferential deals to successful songwriters at the same time as levying high administration costs on those at grass roots level. They argue that the ‘sweetheart’ deals that PRS cuts with big artists are effectively subsidised by smaller songwriters who, if they were to leave PRS and deal directly with agents and promoters face huge amounts of red tape and prohibitive fees.

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The claimants have issued a statement saying: “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.”

The action is being led by Pace Rights Management, a group founded by artist managers critical of the PRS monopoly which is arguing for direct licensing of live rights.

The ‘sweetdeal deals’ in this case is the Major Live Concert Service that PRS has in place for arena and stadium-sized artists, which sees songwriters charged a £125 administrative charge from royalties per gig. In contrast, for most acts royalties are based on 4.2% of gross ticket sales, with the PRS taking a 23% administration cut from royalties, though this is capped at £1250.

Pace claim that artists in the MLCS pay an administation fee of 0.2% whilst, at 23%, everyone else gets is paying 115 times more. “The smaller PRS members are subsidising the larger members to get these preferential conditions,” argues Pace co-founder Adam Elfin.

Added to this there is the argument that PRS is deliberately erecting financial and administrative obstacles to try to thwart members from direct licensing. Pace and the 10 songwriters named in the suit first contacted PRS in December 2023 outlining their criticisms and argue the organisation has been deliberately prevaricating.

If Pace win it could see a widespread desertion from PRS, or wholesale reforms to the current system.

Meanwhile PRS has said in a statement: “Given PRS for Music’s sincere efforts to engage constructively, it is disappointing that Pace has taken the step to issue proceedings against us. We 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. We have worked extremely hard to simplify our processes in the interest of our members, which Pace has consistently failed to comply or engage with, which has resulted in royalties being unnecessarily withheld from PRS members for the live performance of their works at concerts. It has also created complexity and uncertainty for live music venues and promoters.”

Will Simpson
News and features writer

Will Simpson is a freelance music expert whose work has appeared in Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Guitarist and Total Guitar magazine. He is the author of 'Freedom Through Football: Inside Britain's Most Intrepid Sports Club' and his second book 'An American Cricket Odyssey' is due out in 2025