A long-running dispute about royalties payable for classical concerts featuring copyright works has come to an end in a mediated settlement between the Performing Right Society (PRS) and the Association of British Concert Promoters (ABCP).

A new royalty rate of 4.8% of net box office income will now come into effect, backdated to July 1 2003, and a discounted rate of 4.5% will be applied for all payments made within 28 days. The agreement was reached following more than three years of negotiations between the ABCP and PRS, which licences the public performance of music on behalf of its 38,000 composer, songwriter and music publisher members and pays royalties to them according to the usage of their works. The dispute escalated following a decision by PRS in July 2000 to increase royalties for all classical concerts featuring copyright works by annual increments from 3.3%, the rate established in 1990, to 7.3% by 2007. When its attempts to negotiate with PRS failed, the ABCP referred the new PRS tariff to the Copyright Tribunal in July 2002, by which time the rate had already risen to 4.8%. By July of this year it had risen again to 5.3%. Agreement on the new lower rate was reached last week “to avoid a protracted and expensive hearing to the detriment of the classical music community”. The Copyright Tribunal hearing had been scheduled for January 2004.

The ABCP’s campaign focused on two issues: firstly that the new rate would deter promoters from presenting copyright work as they could not afford such a significant increase; and secondly that the royalty tariff for classical music should be the same as for rock and pop music, which was set at 3% following a referral to the Copyright Tribunal in 1988. It was supported by the Association of British Orchestras (ABO), the Theatrical Management Association, the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management, the British Arts Festivals Association, the Concert Promoters Association, Making Music, and Raymond Gubbay Ltd. The campaign was co-ordinated by Robert Sanderson on behalf of a Steering Group which united the entire classical concert promotions industry. He told Classical Music magazine, “...the musical landscape has changed, such that you find Paul McCartney writing pieces for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic or Frank Zappa being played by chamber orchestras... and we can think of no discernible reason why Shostakovich should be treated any differently from Liam Gallagher.”

As the agreement was announced, PRS Chairman David Bedford said “I am delighted that all parties will work together to ensure a healthy future for contemporary classical music”. Robert Sanderson added “Both the ABCP and the PRS are keen to encourage the creation of more new music. The performance of more new work by living composers is to the benefit of both composers and promoters”. Echoing his views, Russell Jones, Director of the Association of British Orchestras, said “The ABO will now be concentrating on working with all the parties to maximise the opportunities for composers, publishers and orchestras to work together for their mutual benefit and ensure that such a dispute is never allowed to happen again.”