Music Users Group seeks sensible’ negotiations over music in public places
The Bermuda Music Users Group (BMUG) urged local businesses to come together to negotiate with a UK copyright group threatening fees for the public use of copyrighted music.
According to the BMUG, Island organisations are coming under fresh scrutiny from the UK’s Performance Rights Society (PRS), whose mandate is to ensure that recording artists around the world are paid a commission on their work whenever it is broadcast.
The PRS imposes a licence fee on companies that play recorded music, with the revenues then being forwarded to musicians.
Around 30 interested parties took part in a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce headquarters on Monday to discuss the potential impact of an increased presence of PRS in Bermuda.
Scott Pearman, of the BMUG, said that the impact of PRS would not only be felt by the Island’s obvious targets, such as hotels and broadcasters, but any business that plays music for customers or employees.
In the UK such businesses are liable to an annual fee of around $1,000, but until now companies in Bermuda have negotiated their rates independently.
While Mr Pearman said the PRS has a right to ask for something, it is incumbent on Bermuda’s businesses to come together to negotiate rates that are “reasonable and representative of Bermuda”.
“We can say wait a minute, hold on, this is not the UK,” he said. “Bermuda has ten radio stations that reach 60,000 people. London has six million people. You start to do the math.
“It’s not just double taxation, what we are being taxed is 100 times what the UK is charged comparatively. What we are asking for is sensible negotiations of the market level.”
The meeting was also told that the Ministry of Home Affairs is working on legislation to create a Copyright Tribunal where members of the public could bring complaints.
Several people at the meeting complained that PRS would be “double dipping” — taxing both the radio station that plays the music and the store that broadcasts the radio.
Bermuda Broadcasting Company CEO Rick Richardson said he has had to work with the PRS before, warning that businesses must be very careful of what contracts they sign.
He said when he took his post the BBC had already signed a contract with PRS, and the company was paying fees for music on both ABC and CBS networks — even though contracts with the networks stated they paid the fees for copyrighted music on the station.
“There will be double dipping if we don’t pay attention,” he said. “I said to them I have been paying all along and you have been collecting all along. There’s something legally wrong with that. It’s not just ethically wrong.”
One restaurateur said the rates for restaurants was based largely on seating, which meant in the current economic climate meant restaurants could find themselves paying for empty seats.
She also said that creating extra fees for entertainers and event organisers could hurt the tourism industry, noting the frequent complaint of there not being enough to do on the Island.
Joanne MacPhee, of the Chamber of Commerce, said she was pleased by the turnout at the meeting to discuss the emotive issue.
“In these economic times the very fact we have to pay what is essentially another tax, one that’s not going to benefit this country, is not what people want to hear,” she said. “It’s a hard one for people.
“We are not disagreeing that PRS have the legal right to collect these fees, but what we want is to set an appropriate tariff schedule for Bermuda.”
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