The cost of free music
Last year in a small bar just outside Cleveland, OH a local band played a classic rock covers set. When one less than original member of the audience shouted the clichéd ‘FREEEEBIRD!’ the band duly obliged. Seven months on and the bar, 69 Taps, has a copyright infringement suit filed against it. While the band had not published their setlist it is (now) suspected that either a BMI or an ASCAP employee must have been in the building for the show, and they took exception to ‘Freebird’ and ten other songs being played without the royalties due being paid by the venue.
That doesn’t initially seem fair, but the band themselves are in agreement: if you use a musician’s music they should be paid. Here in the UK that means dealing with the PPL and PRS for Music. They’re far less inclined to send a lawsuit down to you seven months after an event, but this story acted as a stark reminder to us that many people do attempt to avoid paying musicians what they’re worth. It’s a particularly sad fact in our line of business that many people choose to use Spotify to provide a soundtrack to their venue or work place. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the fact that this is against the Spotify user policy, it also means that the correct royalties for a public performance may be omitted. Spotify, after all, pay to rights holders (read: Labels) rather than to artists, and those rates tend to have been struck with the labels rather than being the standard PRS royalty rate.
While all this may make a negligible difference to the coffers of the biggest stars it can often mean a small artist seeing no royalty cheque at all. We love showcasing less heard artists, and we’re always proud when we can include them on our royalty statements. We don’t do cautionary tales very often, but this one made us feel like we should address the matter head on. We’re going to keep making sure small artists get what they’re owed. If, like us, you feel all musicians work that is played in public should be paid for properly, we hope you’ll share this article around.