Published Aug 27, 2015SoundCloud has angered lots of people over the years with its confusing approach to removing music from the service due to supposed copyright infringement, and it has also attempted to work out royalty deals with major labels in the process. Evidently, these efforts haven't helped the company in avoiding legal culpability, since the UK association Performing Rights Society for Music is now launching legal action against SoundCloud over unpaid royalities.
Boasting more than 111,000 members, PRS for Music is a UK body that represents musicians and publishers in the Britain and licenses music to organizations and distributes the resulting royalties to artists. It has taken issue with SoundCloud's apparent stance that it doesn't need a PRS licence to operate in the UK and Europe; in other words, SoundCloud hasn't been paying out the royalties it allegedly owes to members of PRS for Music.
In an email to PRS members, the society explained that it has spent five years attempting to work out a deal with the online service. These attempts have failed, however, hence the need for legal action. The organization has apparently identified 4,500 infringing posts, but SoundCloud has allegedly only removed 250 of these, with no indication as to why those particular posts were selected.
Read the full letter to members below.
PRS for Music begins legal action against SoundCloud
After careful consideration, and following five years of unsuccessful negotiations, we now find ourselves in a situation where we have no alternative but to commence legal proceedings against the online music service SoundCloud.
When a writer or publisher becomes a member of the Performing Right Society, they assign certain rights to their works over for us to administer, so it's our job to ensure we collect and distribute royalties due to them. SoundCloud actively promotes and shares music. Launched in 2008, the service now has more than 175m unique listeners per month.
Unfortunately, the organisation continues to deny it needs a PRS for Music licence for its existing service available in the UK and Europe, meaning it is not remunerating our members when their music is streamed by the SoundCloud platform.
Our aim is always to license services when they use our members' music. It has been a difficult decision to begin legal action against SoundCloud but one we firmly believe is in the best, long-term interests of our membership. This is because it is important we establish the principle that a licence is required when services make available music to users. We have asked SoundCloud numerous times to recognise their responsibilities to take a licence to stop the infringement of our members' copyrights but so far our requests have not been met. Therefore we now have no choice but to pursue the issue through the courts.
We understand SoundCloud has taken down some of our members' works from their service. With our letter of claim, we sent SoundCloud a list of 4,500 musical works which are being made available on the service, as a sample of our repertoire being used, so that they understood the scale of our members' repertoire and its use on the service. We asked them to take a licence to cover the use of all our members' repertoire or otherwise stop infringing.
SoundCloud decided to respond to our claim by informing us that it had removed 250 posts. Unfortunately, we have no visibility or clarity on SoundCloud's approach to removing works, so it is not currently clear why these particular posts have been selected by them given the wider issue of infringement that is occurring. Ultimately, it is SoundCloud's decision as to whether it starts paying for the ongoing use of our members' music or stops using these works entirely.
If the streaming market is to reach its true potential and offer a fair return for our members, organisations such as SoundCloud must pay for their use of our members' music. We launched our Streamfair campaign in June to raise awareness of this issue and highlight how music creators need to be properly remunerated from streaming. We believe that all digital services should obtain a licence which grants them permission to use our members' music and repertoire, in this case the works of songwriters, publishers and composers.
The streaming market cannot fairly develop unless this happens. We have always been pro-licensing and pro-actively work with organisations in order to propose an appropriate licensing solution for the use of our members' works.
We remain hopeful that this matter can be resolved without the need for extended litigation. Members will appreciate that this is now a legal matter and our ability to communicate around it is therefore limited by the legal process. However, we will try to share information and updates whenever we can.Ultimately, it is SoundCloud's decision as to whether it starts paying for the ongoing use of our members' music or stops using these works entirely.
In response, a SoundCloud spokesperson told The Verge that the streaming site was in negotiations with PRS for Music when it decided to sue. The spokesperson said:
It is regrettable that PRS appears to be following this course of action in the midst of an active commercial negotiation with SoundCloud. We believe this approach does not serve the best interests of any of the parties involved, in particular the members of the PRS, many of whom are active users of our platform and who rely on it to share their work and communicate with their fanbase.