Playing music could carry a new cost
Companies that play recorded music as part of their business operation could be hit with fresh fees — or risk breaching copyright laws.
And the new tariff could even apply to schools and charities that broadcast music, according to a lobby group seeking to get laws standardised.
According to the Bermuda Music Users Group (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 revenues then being forwarded to musicians.
Scott Pearman, of the BMUG, said that, under copyright legislation, even small businesses that play music for the benefit of staff or customers would be vulnerable to the charge.
“Almost every Bermuda business or organisation is potentially impacted including Government, broadcasters, event promoters, restaurants, hotels, shops, charities, schools and even churches,” Mr Pearman said.
As an example, he said that a barber shop owner who had a radio playing on the premises while serving customers, would need to get a PRS licence.
“The PRS would argue that either the shop's staff or customers are enjoying listening to the radio and as a result, the owner is gaining commercially from it,” Mr Pearman said.
Similarly, a hotel or guest house that played recorded music in a foye or elevator, would also have to obtain a licence.
Mr Pearman added that, although the PRS had always had the right to levy charges, Bermuda had apparently been off its radar for more than a decade.
But recently a number of Island businesses had been approached by the organisation — and broadcasters were not the only targets.
“It is looking like a major campaign and they are looking to have someone on the ground here,” Mr Pearman said.
In the UK, PRS is understood to charge around $1,000 for a licence, which has to be renewed every year.
But Mr Pearman said there appears to be no standard rate in Bermuda, and instead, individual companies appear to be negotiating separate terms.
“The message has been inconsistent,” Mr Pearman said.
“It appears the PRS may be trying to get the best deal with the first company and then get everyone else to follow suite,” Mr Pearman said.
“BMUG would like to see if businesses in Bermuda are interested in coming together as a collective to establish a set rate.”
Mr Pearman stressed that the organisation was not “anti-musician” and pointed out that, even if local radio stations played recordings only by Bermudian artists, they would not gain financially.
“If we're going to be forced to pay a UK tariff we want to ensure that there's a direct benefit to Bermuda musicians,” he said.
“But the total playlist of Island stations pales into comparison to the 50 or more stations that they have in London alone, so we're not going to get a Bermudian on the top of the playlist.
“It's only the top 200 artists on the playlist that will benefit, and that means that money is going to be going out of the country and not coming back.”
BMUG will be holding a meeting to disuss the matter at 5.30pm tonight at the Chamber of Commerce office in Hamilton.
“The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss the impact of the Performance Rights Society of the UK entering the Bermuda market and implementing UK music licensing rates on Bermuda businesses and organisations that use music for public performance or the enjoyment of their customers or staff,” Mr Pearman said.
“The BMUG meeting will provide a forum for music users in Bermuda to gain additional information on PRS, register their experiences, concerns and discuss options with respect to a collective response.”