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Neil Young, The Doors and others excluded from BBC radio because of rights concerns over iPlayer upgrade

By | Published on Friday 10 July 2015

Neil Young

Songs by Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Journey and The Doors – including cover versions and any tracks containing samples of their work – are to be excluded from BBC radio because of concerns over licensing stemming from an upgrade to the Corporation’s iPlayer Radio app.

This is because music from each of the affected artists is not represented by the UK publishing sector’s mechanical rights collecting society MCPS – even though performing rights are repped by PRS – and offline caching due to be added to the BBC’s radio app will exploit mechanical as well as performing rights.

As much previously reported, the music publishing sector deals with the reproduction and distribution of its songs (the mechanical rights) separately from the public performance or communication of compositions (the performing rights), and in the UK there are separate collecting societies for each set of rights, even though licensees can usually get joint licenses from PRS For Music, which works on behalf of both PRS and MCPS.

Collecting societies usually provide licensees with so called blanket licences, which means said licensee can use any of the songs the society represents directly or via reciprocal agreements with other societies around the world. This never means all songs ever, but on the performing rights side broadcasters and promoters usually act as if it does.

But licensees need to be more careful about repertoire gaps when making mechanical copies – so pressing CDs or syncing music to video, for example – because publishers representing mechanical rights outside the collective licensing system are much more likely to enforce their rights when songs are used without a direct licence.

As always, things get more complicated once you get into digital, because whenever music is delivered digitally a content provider is exploiting both mechanical and performing rights at the same time. Though the music industry has differing polices around the world as to how much of a stream is the mechanical right and how much is the performing right, and it varies according to service type and country. Radio-style webcasting services may be treated as just performing right exploiting set ups.

The timing of the BBC memo presumably means that lawyers at the Beeb reckon that its past online radio services have been covered entirely by the Corporation’s PRS licence, but that the offline listening function soon to be added to iPlayer Radio will require a combined MCPS/PRS licence, and that excludes those songwriters who are MCPS hold outs.

It’s thought the four artists being excluded – three of whom are published by Wixen Music – chose to withdraw from MCPS not because of digital matters (they have been outside the society for some time), but because they didn’t want to participate in MCPS’s blanket licences for TV sync (participation in which is compulsory for all members). These artists presumably prefer the US approach where television sync is negotiated directly with the publisher, as with ads, film and games over here.

Once outside of MCPS, the four songwriters’ publishers then licensed labels and sync clients directly in the UK, which was all pretty manageable, but gets more complex in the digital domain, as the BBC’s latest move shows.

It’s not clear if the BBC’s memo was motivated by a specific intervention by Wixen over the new radio app, though it’s more likely that past disputes between the publisher and the Corporation over TV sync still haunt the broadcaster’s legal department, and it is now being extra careful with each new development in digital.

Of course, there is nothing to stop BBC radio from continuing to air songs from all four acts over the airwaves under its PRS licence. Though shows from the Beeb’s radio stations usually slip through to iPlayer Radio automatically, so bosses will be nervous of accidentally infringing mechanical rights via digital delivery even if the original broadcast is all covered.

Commenting on the developments, MCPS told reporters last night: “MCPS endeavours to offer blanket licences to broadcasters to enable them to enjoy ‘all you can eat’ access to record all repertoire into programmes. However membership of MCPS is optional and these repertoires haven’t been members for several years. MCPS therefore has to ensure that any blanket licences transfer appropriate value back to the rights holders in order to be able to continue to offer as much repertoire as possible to broadcasters. PRS, which administers performing rights, however, confirms the works remain available for simple radio broadcast”.

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