PRS Begins Legal Action Against Soundcloud

The Performing Rights Society today distributed an email announcing legal action against Soundcloud.

I love Soundcloud. I think it provides a great service. It allows musicians to share their music and be part of a community who, spammers aside, listen to and share their tracks.

What it doesn’t do however, is pay musicians for streams of their tracks. Even though the likes of Spotify offer a pittance compared to a full CD or download, they are at least making an effort to remunerate musicians. Soundcloud do not.

I believe in free culture: art, music, literature etc should be free to anyone, anywhere and anytime.

The kicker here is that there is a proportion of musicians who pay for a premium Soundcloud profile – Soundcloud have an income stream. The musicians who Soundcloud make money from are not financially compensated for their work being hosted and played the platform.

The PRS support their members by ensuring that if their music is played, the member is compensated accordingly. It means many retailers pay into a license that then feeds back to the artist, for example.

Soundcloud does not have a PRS license, hence musicians not being paid.

As an independent musician who uses the PRS to ensure that I get some compensation for the many gigs I play for free (£5 per pub gig – or £5 for 30 minutes work), I support their action.

As someone who uses Soundcloud to promote my work, I hope they find an amicable agreement.

The email from the PRS is in full 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.

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.

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.

Please visit our website to read our frequently asked questions.

Yours faithfully,

Karen Buse

Executive Director, Membership and International
PRS for Music

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