PRS for Music CEO calls out industry’s ‘elephant in the room’

Robert Ashcroft, PRS for Music chief executive, has named current ‘safe harbour’ hosting provisions within EU copyright legislation as the music industry’s ‘elephant in the room’.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 17 Apr 2015
  • min read
Talking to delegates at the Westminster Media Forum’s Next Steps for the Music Industry session, he said the provisions were damaging creators and the wider cultural industries, and needed to be addressed.

Under the EU’s e-Commerce Directive (published in 2000), so-called ‘safe harbour’allows providers of certain online hosting services, in certain circumstances, to be exempt from liability for unlawful activity which takes place on their service.

Ashcroft rejected the provision, saying: ‘I would call on everybody, particularly our government, to ensure that within the current copyright review, which is due to be proposed this October, we say loud and clear that the elephant in the room is safe harbour. It needs clarification.

‘I do think that a lot of business models, which didn’t exist when the Copyright Directive and e-Commerce Directive were created, have come in and snuck under the wire.

‘They’re not paying their dues – and that is the elephant I would like to see us address.’

Ashcroft said that unlicensed and under-licensed digital music services were threatening rightsholders’ livelihoods and were harming both the UK’s creative industries and the wider economy.

‘Speaking on behalf of our members, I do not consent to unlicensed services aggregating, distributing and curating our members’ content,’ he went on.

‘And I do not consent to being told the terms under which other platforms will pay token amounts of money to rightsholders. This doesn’t just damage our members; it doesn’t just damage the recording artists; it doesn’t just damage the performers; it damages the entire economy.’

Later in a panel session, Musicians’ Union general secretary John Smith agreed with Ashcroft, saying: ‘From our point of view, artists and performers want their music to be available legally to the public on whatever platforms possible.

‘We totally support Robert’s statement that we need to remedy the safe harbour situation in the interests of the artists and creators.’

Phil Sherrell, a partner at Bird & Bird, added: ‘It seems to me that safe harbour is completely broken. It doesn’t at all acknowledge the huge value transfer that goes to the platforms which rely on it.’

The comments come just weeks after Mike Weatherley, former Conservative MP for Brighton and Hove, called on internet service providers to stop hiding behind the safe harbour provisions, and better assist the fight against piracy.

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