UK Performing Right Society insists that every copyright is sacred – no exceptions

Most of the stories on this blog are about copyright absurdities, and the poor fit of an 18th-century legal framework for a 21st-century technology. But it’s important to remember that the copyright world is not just silly, but can be downright selfish. Here’s a great example of how copyright’s enforcers cannot imagine forgoing the tax it places on any activity involving works covered by its monopoly, even for a good cause:

A charity concert in aid of needy musicians starring Dame Evelyn Glennie and the BBC Radio 4 announcer Zeb Soanes has been hit by an “embarrassing” copyright row over six minutes of suggestive comedy jazz.

The event at Cadogan Hall in London on 1 April mostly featured humorous arrangements of out-of-copyright classical works, and was intended to raise money for the Help Musicians charity.

But the Performing Right Society (PRS), which collects royalties, is charging the organiser more than £1,000 – equivalent to up to half of the charitable earnings – because the programme included two short pieces that are still in copyright.

As the Guardian article goes to explain, the issue arose because of two songs by Earl Okin, arranged by Rainer Hersh, the conductor and organiser of the concert. Okin is quoted as saying “I don’t know why they got involved. There are many more things the PRS should be doing.” He also said that any money he received would be sent on to the charity, which confirms that he is not the problem here. By contrast, the Guardian reports that the PRS said “it could not make an exception by waiving the charge”.

And there we have it. Even when a charity concert is collecting money for the very people that the PRS supposedly supports, there can be no exceptions. The sanctity of copyright must be preserved above all else.

Featured image by Paul the Archivist.

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