The PRS for Music International department ensures our members are treated fairly by most countries in the world, from China – where copyright is still in in infancy – to more obscure places like the tropical island of St. Lucia.
Of course, we still have some blind spots like North Korea, Iran and some of the least developed African countries, but even for the most successful writers these markets don’t prove to be the most lucrative. But there is a region of substantial wealth where we are still not collecting revenues – the Middle-East, and especially the oil-rich Gulf region.
The GDP per person in the United Arab Emirates is £31,000, which is on par with the United Kingdom. While outside the main cities the market share of our member repertoire is probably low, in destinations like Dubai and Abu Dhabi our members’ music is widely used. So why are these affluent areas as dry as the desert that surrounds them to our members?
Firstly, there are no authors’ societies in the region. Secondly, indifference, and even hostility, to copyright by the ruling monarchs makes the region the final frontier in our efforts to ensure our members get fair remuneration for their works.
With little domestic pressure for authors’ rights, there is scant incentive to compensate western artists when, unhindered, that money can happily stay in the local economy.
Efforts to derive revenues for Western copyrights have been extended through the years. Despite some promising starts, the intransigence of the local licensees and the indifference of the authorities have stifled the efforts to get licenses in place.
PRS for Music have by no means been the only society to seek licensing in the region in vain – our sister societies in France (SACEM) and Canada (SOCAN) have made substantial efforts as well, with meagre results on par with ours.
We have licensed the Burj Khalifa fountain in Dubai, SACEM the local online service, and SOCAN a local radio station. Altogether the global community has been able to extract a tiny fraction of the value to songwriters are legitimately due from the region.
So, what is PRS going to do to make a difference? Rather than repeating what has been tried before and expecting a different result our 2019 plan is to change the approach entirely.
Instead of venturing into the region itself we intend to focus on licensing the gulf region airlines as the initial wedge into broader licensing in the region.
Emirates Airlines has spent £250 million for naming rights for the Emirates Stadium in Highbury, and hundreds of millions more for premium sponsorships for not only Arsenal, but also teams such as Real Madrid, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germaine among many others. Etihad Airways paid a reported £400M for their sponsorship of Manchester City hailed as “the largest deal of its kind” by The Guardian.
Qatar Airways is not far behind, with all these airlines boasting premium in-flight entertainment that depends on musical works by PRS members.
Companies that can afford hundreds of millions on sports sponsorships should have the decency of paying a fair licence for their in-flight entertainment, which makes heavy use of music from PRS members.
The difference between these airlines and our efforts locally in the region is that they all fly into the United Kingdom and have a substantial presence here.
We believe that by providing an understanding of authors’ rights in the UK these airlines will appreciate the value of our members’ music as part of their in-flight entertainment offering.
Also, as a result of their substantial connections with the United Kingdom these airlines, unlike the local establishments in the region, are subject to our laws which gives us a further opportunity to make our case for member renumeration.
In the end, our goal is to get to the point where these airlines understand that obtaining a reasonably priced licence for the music they use is, in fact, good for their business.
We do not expect overnight success, but with hard work and perseverance the International team is determined to turn the Gulf region into the oasis it rightfully should be for our members.