Tougher economic times have drawn into question part of the licensing scheme operated by PRS for Music. In particular, whether shops and businesses should pay charges for simply playing the radio in the workplace. Interestingly, I've had this issue flagged up from two sides. The stores and firms which balk at having licence fees levied on them when they are struggling to keep in business. And the radio stations who say that they are already paying a licence fee for broadcasting music and that this is effectively ‘double taxation'.
It's become a bit of a pet issue for me as I've held a long interest in the radio industry and am a keen supporter of community radio. I've also been concerned by complaints I've received that some businesses feel that they've been picked on unfairly or small businesses who liken their work to being in a home environment and therefore why should they pay? Similarly, commercial radio stations have concerns that charging shops and businesses to play their output is hitting advertising revenues which have already been cut to the bone in the recession. On the other side PRS argue that many of their artists are small businesses and that they should be properly recompensed for the performance of their creative works.
I met up with PRS recently to put a number of these points to them. There was recognition that small businesses should not be picked on and exemptions for lone workers, certain guest houses and medical practitioners were highlighted. Small business tariffs starting at just £44 a year were stressed and a separate scheme for voluntary organisations underlined. I certainly welcome the fact that PRS are working with the Federation of Small Business and have promised to keep tariffs under review.
But this doesn't address the principal issue of ‘double charging' which was flagged up to me in no uncertain terms by RadioCentre - the trade body for commercial radio. But there may be a way forward. PRS have offered to fund research into the impact of licensing on radio advertising revenues, recognising that they wouldn't want to ‘cut off their nose despite their face' if some radio stations showcasing their artists were to go to the wall. Provided this is meaningful research conducted in collaboration with the industry, this may be helpful in informing the debate. However, my feeling is that this is going to be an issue which will be ongoing for some time yet.