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PRS sues LIVENow over unlicensed livestreams

By | Published on Thursday 12 January 2023

PRS For Music

UK collecting society PRS is suing livestreaming platform LIVENow over allegations it delivered a number of livestreamed shows without having the right licences in place.

According to Law360, in a lawsuit filed last month and just made public, PRS cites in particular the big Dua Lipa livestream in November 2020 which LIVENow delivered. It reckons that one show – which was also available on-demand for a time after the initial airing – was viewed in over 150 countries and attracted 285,000 ticket sales.

The society also points to a Rolling Stone report that claimed more than five million people had watched the show, suggesting that it was possibly made available to access for free in some markets.

When livestreamed concerts became big news during the COVID pandemic – as many artists looked into livestreaming as an alternative to real world gigs – there was much debate about how such events should be licensed. Which is to say, what licences do the organisers of a livestreamed show need in order to cover the performance and streaming of the songs contained within their show.

With real world live shows, a promoter usually gets a licence from the local song rights collecting society, so PRS in the UK. The society usually owns the performing rights of its members’ songs, so has the exclusive right to license unless any one writer chooses to opt out of that system, as they sometimes do.

PRS also represents songs controlled by other collecting societies around the world through its reciprocal deals with those other societies.

However, in the digital domain the licensing of songs is more complicated for a variety of reasons, not least because streaming also exploits the mechanical rights in the songs which, with Anglo-American repertoire in particular, are controlled and often licensed by music publishers.

Plus, a livestreamed show is global and PRS is generally only able to offer a blanket licence covering something nearing a global repertoire within the UK.

Then there’s the difference in rates. In the UK, 4.2% of box office takings usually goes to PRS. But with streaming, it’s more common for services to pay up to 15% of revenue to the societies and publishers that control the song rights. So is a livestream more live or more stream?

As the number of livestreamed shows increased during the pandemic, PRS announced a new licence covering such events with the aim of removing as many of those complexities as possible. Although there was plenty of criticism regarding the 10% rate the society set and the ambiguities regarding the limitations of that licence.

Some argued that – because most of the livestreamed shows taking place during the pandemic were an attempt by artists, and their partners and suppliers in the live sector, to compensate for some of the income that they were losing due to lockdown – PRS should treat those events more like a real world live show and set a 4.2% rate.

Others also pointed out that the costs of staging livestreamed gigs – especially major events like the Dua Lipa show – were particularly high, and that should be factored into any PRS rate.

It remains to be seen if any of those complexities and arguments form part of LIVENow’s defence.

In its lawsuit, PRS says it has made “repeated attempts” to get information about the revenues generated by livestreamed shows hosted by LIVENow, so that it can work out what licensing fees are due. But so far that information has not been forthcoming.

To that end, it is also seeking an injunction ordering the livestreaming outfit to provide that data. And another injunction ordering LIVENow to refrain from livestreaming any future shows containing performances of songs PRS represents.

Once real world live shows started to return as the COVID lockdowns ended, the at one point lively debate around the licensing of livestreamed concerts died down somewhat. It remains to be seen if this legal dispute reignites the debate within the music community.