Small Businesses in U.K. Say They're Confused About Music Copyrights

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Confusing fees and an apparent lack of transparency on the part of music-focused copyright collection agencies in the United Kingdom have small business there looking for change. New research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) finds that a quarter of small firms who regularly deal with the agencies in order to acquire music rights have made a complaint of some sort in the past year.

According to the research, many businesses have seen a lack of progress towards creating a transparent and simplified process by the agencies, which include PRS for Music and Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL). Firms complain of confusing charges and say that collecting agencies are largely tone-deaf on understanding their needs.

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FSB chairman John Allan notes that small firms aren't asking for much, just to know when and why they need a music license for their business, and how those charges will be determined.

"An unexpected demand for licence payments to allow you to play music in your business can be a very unpleasant shock to some small businesses, and the industry should be sensitive in how they approach the issue," said Allan. "For trust to be built, they need to make sure they are very clear on why a licence is needed and completely transparent on how charges are calculated."

He added, "Although collecting societies have a strong code of conduct in place, we are not convinced they are making enough progress in meeting their own standards. This research should be seen as a warning sign that without faster change, small business will start seeking stronger regulation of the industry."

In the coming weeks, collecting societies are expected to respond to the British Copyright Council's independent review of their codes of conduct.

Trade body BPI, which represents British record labels, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the FSB study. Lobbying group UK Music also did not respond at press time.

A lack of clarity about intellectual property rights is a running topic in the U.K., where the government recently published a comprehensive report on promoting copyright education and awareness. The report, by Mike Weatherley, the prime minister's adviser on intellectual property, states that a "more strategic partnership would achieve greater cohesion, clarity and coordination, while allowing for the sharing of best practices." Read more on the report here.


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