The UK’s music performance rights organisation has been criticised once again after yesterday (Wednesday) extending its livestreaming tariff to include small scale concerts.

PRS for Music has defined live-streaming as “a form of video exploitation” and seeks to impose a flat fee equating to a minimum nine per cent tariff on events generating less than £500.

The organisation has launched a licensing portal for music creators, venues and promoters wanting to stage and livestream small-scale gigs, DJ events, classical concerts and theatrical events online.

Critics of the scheme claim some artists promoting their own shows would be obliged to pay up to 100 per cent of gross revenues to PRS, even if performing their own original compositions for free.

For comparison, the rate of in-person live shows are charged 4.2 per cent of gross revenues.

PRS said it recognises that as long as the physical live sector remains closed, “livestreamed concerts, whilst still a different form of exploitation to a physical gig or concert, are in part substitutional for physical gigs and concerts.”

The Music Managers Forum (MMF) and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) first wrote to PRS in December after it proposed tariffs on livestream events of up to 17 per cent of gross revenues. They urged them to rethink and commit to a proper consultation, which was backed up by 150 leading managers, artists and songwriters.

Following yesterday’s announcement for smaller livestream events, Annabella Coldrick, chief executive, MMF, said: “All of us want songwriters and composers to be paid fairly and efficiently for the use of their work, but this is not the way to go about it. Once again, we would urge PRS for Music to stop acting unilaterally.

“They need to urgently listen to the growing concerns of artists and their representatives during the pandemic, implement a waiver for performer-writers to opt-out of such fees, and commit to a full and transparent industry-wide consultation before issuing invoices to cash-strapped artists.”

PRS chief executive Andrea C. Martin, said: “We recognise the importance of providing simple licensing solutions wherever possible and the licensing portal for small-scale online events is an example of this.

“We are continuing to work hard to agree a range of licensing options for providers of larger events, including a proposed discounted rate during the pandemic. This is a part of the market which has seen exponential growth and is itself constantly evolving, meeting the expectations for worldwide blanket licences is alone no small feat, but we are committed to finding solutions which ensure members can be paid fairly when their works are performed.”

In November 2020, the proposed tariff for livestreams, described by PRS as a “temporary experimental and non-precedential rate structure”, was devised without any consultation with industry. If implemented, PRS would impose tariffs on a banded scale – starting at eight per cent on livestream events grossing up to £50,000, and rising to 17 per cent on livestream events grossing more than £450,000 from ticket sales.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has severely impacted the livelihoods of artists and music makers, the new increased rate was to be applied retrospectively. According to MMF and FAC, the move would make the majority of livestreamed performances commercially untenable, in a climate in which it is one of the top sources of revenue for artists.