Play fair when enforcing music at work laws, says FPB
Small business owners, many of whom are paying hundreds of pounds so they can legally play music at work, are now able to complain to an ombudsman if they believe they have been treated unfairly by the Performing Rights Society (PRS).
Under the law, business owners have to pay if their staff or customers are able to listen to music played in a range of formats – including hold music recorded on telephones – even if this is not for commercial reasons.
The ombudsman was recommended in a consultation into the new PRS code of practice following a number of complaints from small businesses about the organisation, including less-than-courteous phone calls and unexplained price increases.
However, members of the Forum of Private Business (FPB) have reported they had no idea the service, which was launched in July 2009, existed at all.
“We have received call after call from concerned members complaining about their treatment at the hands of the PRS and the first they have heard about this avenue to air their complaints is when we tell them about it,” said the FPB’s Policy Representative Matt Goodman. “A PRS licence is a legal requirement and of course an ombudsman is a good way of addressing small business concerns but it is already difficult to accept yet another cost to businesses. Without a well-understood model such as the TV licence, the frustrations of many small businesses are only compounded by the lack of clarity and information.”
The FPB is concerned that the Society’s guidance is badly constructed and confusing. There are over 40 price tariffs on its website, listing the many different costs of purchasing a licence, depending on various factors such as the size of a business.
In addition, many frustrated members have contacted the FPB’s member helpline to complain that often PRS staff themselves do not understand the pricing structure, and even appear to have an agenda to catch firms out.
FPB member Tony Wade owns the Otley-based Trade Labels Ltd, which supplies to the printing industry. After receiving a worrying call from the PRS he investigated and found he does not have to pay.
“Apparently, because only one person can hear the radio, we don’t have to pay but I can’t explain why,” said Mr Wade. “The system is completely confusing. When they initially called there was the assumption that we would have to pay, and I’m convinced they were listening to see if they could hear the radio in the background.”
He added: “I can only presume they are geared towards getting the maximum amount of money they can. I knew nothing about an ombudsman. I had never heard this was available, nor did any other business I’ve discussed the PRS with.”
The healthcare provider
The PRS licensing requirement has forced FPB member Chris Carr, of Hearing Healthcare Centre in Cambridge, to change the way he tests hearing aids.
“There has been no mention of an ombudsman in any of my dealings with the PRS,” he said. “The first call I received was fairly aggressive and I thought it was a spoof call at first. I used to use the radio to make sure the loop function on our hearing aids works. Now I can’t – it’s an inconvenience. We will be taxed for breathing next.”
“I agreed to pay – listening to the radio is a necessity to morale up when you’re working in factories on repetitive tasks – but it seems an unnecessary cost we could do without,” said John Constantinou of Gold Brothers Ltd, a metalworker and wire product manufacturer in London. “I won’t say the person who called me from the PRS was a complete prat but the approach could have been better.”
“I was not aware of an ombudsman. Really, they should make sure everyone they contact knows about the service.”
The sign maker
FPB member Sue McAvoy owns Leander Architectural in Buxton, Derbyshire. Recently, the cost of her PRS licence increased from £217.97 to £339.39.
“I was gobsmacked it went up so much and I have not found out why, but it now works out at about £1 per day – it’s just another tax,” said Mrs McAvoy. “I had no idea I could have pursued this with an ombudsman. They should be more proactive in letting business owners know.”
To further confuse the issue, there is another organisation called Phonographic Performance Ltd, from which business owners might be required to obtain a licence.
This combination of factors means that many small businesses must rely on the PRS alone to make decisions about their music licensing.
To contact PRS for Music call 0330 440 1601 or 01925 532111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Phonographic Performance Ltd can be contacted on 020 7534 1000 or at www.ppluk.com.