PRS For Music sues SoundCloud

PRS For Music, the UK musical works collection and licensing society, is suing SoundCloud.

In a memo sent to members today and passed to MBW, the CMO explained that it has taken the action after five years of unsuccessful negotiations.

It claims that SoundCloud continues to ‘deny it needs a PRS for music licence in the UK and Europe’.

The PRS action is reminiscent of GEMA‘s ongoing battle with YouTube in Germany, which has seen countless licensed music videos blocked on the service in the market – although in that case, YouTube at least acknowledges it needs to pay something.

The move threatens to be something of a spanner in the works for those recorded music giants who have now licensed SoundCloud, in anticipation of its yet-to-be-seen subscription tier.

These include Warner Music Group and tens of thousands of independent labels represented by Merlin.

They are also set to include Universal Music Group, according to MBW sources – we will have to wait and see how PRS’s decision affects that imminent deal.

Over in the US, SoundCloud has been licensed by publishers via the NMPA.

If tracks were written by PRS members, it is likely they will be removed from the service in the UK as a result of the new legal action.

You can read the full PRS letter to members below:

Dear Member,

PRS for Music begins legal action against SoundCloud 

After careful consideration, and following five years of unsuccessful negotiations, we now find ourselves in a situation where we have no alternative but to commence legal proceedings against the online music service SoundCloud.

When a writer or publisher becomes a member of the Performing Right Society, they assign certain rights to their works over for us to administer, so it’s our job to ensure we collect and distribute royalties due to them. SoundCloud actively promotes and shares music. Launched in 2008, the service now has more than 175m unique listeners per month.

Unfortunately, the organisation continues to deny it needs a PRS for Music licence for its existing service available in the UK and Europe, meaning it is not remunerating our members when their music is streamed by the SoundCloud platform.

“It has been a difficult decision, but [suing soundcloud] is one we firmly believe is in the best long-term interests of our membership.”

Our aim is always to license services when they use our members’ music. It has been a difficult decision to begin legal action against SoundCloud but one we firmly believe is in the best, long-term interests of our membership. This is because it is important we establish the principle that a licence is required when services make available music to users.

We have asked SoundCloud numerous times to recognise their responsibilities to take a licence to stop the infringement of our members’ copyrights but so far our requests have not been met. Therefore we now have no choice but to pursue the issue through the courts.   

We understand SoundCloud has taken down some of our members’ works from their service.

With our letter of claim, we sent SoundCloud a list of 4,500 musical works which are being made available on the service, as a sample of our repertoire being used, so that they understood the scale of our members’ repertoire and its use on the service. We asked them to take a licence to cover the use of all our members’ repertoire or otherwise stop infringing.

SoundCloud decided to respond to our claim by informing us that it had removed 250 posts. Unfortunately, we have no visibility or clarity on SoundCloud’s approach to removing works, so it is not currently clear why these particular posts have been selected by them given the wider issue of infringement that is occurring.

Ultimately, it is SoundCloud’s decision as to whether it starts paying for the ongoing use of our members’ music or stops using these works entirely.

“Ultimately, it is soundcloud’s decision as to whether it starts paying for the ongoing use of our members’ music or stops using these works.”

If the streaming market is to reach its true potential and offer a fair return for our members, organisations such as SoundCloud must pay for their use of our members’ music.

We launched our Streamfair campaign in June to raise awareness of this issue and highlight how music creators need to be properly remunerated from streaming.

We believe that all digital services should obtain a licence which grants them permission to use our members’ music and repertoire, in this case the works of songwriters, publishers and composers.

The streaming market cannot fairly develop unless this happens. We have always been pro-licensing and pro-actively work with organisations in order to propose an appropriate licensing solution for the use of our members’ works.  

We remain hopeful that this matter can be resolved without the need for extended litigation. Members will appreciate that this is now a legal matter and our ability to communicate around it is therefore limited by the legal process. However, we will try to share information and updates whenever we can.

Music Business Worldwide

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