Play fair when enforcing music at work laws, says FPB

Published:  21 January, 2010

CHESHIRE: 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.

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).

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.”

Confusing structure

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.

“I agreed to pay – listening to the radio is a necessity for morale 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, 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.”

To further confuse the issue, there is another organisation called Phonographic Performance, 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.

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