CEO Robert Ashcroft talks PRS For Music's BBC Copyright Tribunal

Robert Ashcroft

PRS For Music CEO Robert Ashcroft has given Music Week an update on its pending Copyright Tribunal with the BBC.

The blanket licence between PRS, MCPS and the BBC/BBC Worldwide was sent to the Copyright Tribunal last year after the collection societies and the broadcaster failed to agree an extension to the deal that expired at the end of 2016. The terms of that deal will continue until the tribunal reaches its decision, expected to be later this year, with Ashcroft declaring it “business as usual” in the meantime.

“You’re always disappointed to go to a tribunal,” Ashcroft told Music Week. “It’s always much better if you can just negotiate a settlement but sometimes you just have to say, ‘Guys, we need some help in resolving this’.”

Music Week sources previously suggested the BBC’s use of music in commercial activities through its BBC Worldwide arm, particularly internationally, was a major sticking point for rights-holders – but Ashcroft said there were wider issues at stake.

“What we’re doing is saying, ‘The world is changing rapidly around us, things are getting more international, online is becoming more important’,” he said. “Simply extending the way we’ve done business in the past is a difficult thing to negotiate. Everybody has different points of view about how to handle the new world as it develops.”

When asked whether that meant a fundamental change in the way the society works with the BBC was on the cards, he responded: “It depends what you mean by fundamental. Sometimes things at the edges seem very fundamental but you look back and think, ‘Why were we fussing about that’? But certainly, as it looks now, there are issues of principle in there that we don‘t see eye-to-eye on yet – but I still hope we will.”

Despite that, Ashcroft praised the tribunal process as the best way to find a resolution.

“If you look at some of the difficulties they have in the United States; the lawsuits, the class actions, the statutory damages and the difficulties in data and the mess around works registration and notices of intent… Good heavens, we are fortunate in this country,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any accident that 60% of the world’s copyright is collected in Europe and, by and large, the market and the regulatory systems that support it work really very well. Long may it continue.”

PRS won a case against ITV in July 2016, when the Copyright Tribunal rejected the commercial network’s attempt to cap its payments at the 2013 rate. An ITV appeal against the ruling was rejected in February 2017.

PRS For Music’s live music tariff review is also awaiting ratification at the Copyright Tribunal this year. Ashcroft recently told Music Week that PRS' licensing JV with PPL would go live in a matter of weeks.

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