Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 17 April 2008

Northern Ireland Music Rights Society

17 April 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Francie Brolly
The Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:
Mr Richard Abbott ) Northern Ireland Music Rights Society
Mr Hugh Duffy )
Mr Brian Speers )
Mr Brian Kennedy )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
I welcome the representatives of the Northern Ireland Music Rights Society (NIMRS) led by Mr Richard Abbott. I understand that Mr Brian Speers will make the introductions.

Mr Brian Speers ( Northern Ireland Music Rights Society):
I thank the Committee for affording us the opportunity to make a presentation. I work as a solicitor in Belfast, but I am here as an adviser to and supporter of the Northern Ireland Music Rights Society. It is a fledgling society, but one with a great future.

Mr Richard Abbott is the acting chair of the society. Richard has had a lifetime’s work in the music industry as a songwriter and publisher. Mr Hugh Duffy is a former chief executive of the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO), and has experience of the establishment — from new — of a music rights royalty collecting agency in the Republic of Ireland. We also thought it would be useful to hear from a singer and writer of music, and we are very glad that Mr Brian Kennedy is here to help us with our presentation.

The subject of our presentation is the collecting of royalties that are due under the law of copyright to the composers of music. The collection of royalties is organised through the Performing Rights Society in the United Kingdom. However, there is a growing mood among local songwriters that organising their own co-operative to collect royalties would have numerous spin-off benefits for the Northern Ireland community as well.

We simply wish to inform the Committee of the existence of our society and ask for some assistance in facilitating its growth and development. I will ask Richard, who has been doing sterling work, to make a short presentation.

Mr Richard Abbott ( Northern Ireland Music Rights Society):
I will give a quick overview of the unique and complex issue of royalty collection.

Royalty collection is the collecting of money for the use of copyrighted music. That means that radio and television broadcasters have to pay for the music they broadcast, and that money is sent to royalty collection agencies. In addition, premises such as pubs, restaurants, hairdressers’ shops, hotels, schools, churches and indeed Parliament Buildings would have a royalty collection licence. In the case of this Building, for instance, payment would be made to the Performing Rights Society in London. The money is collected by the collection agency and distributed to the writers. It is important to note that royalty collection agencies are non-profit-making organisations — in essence, they are set up by songwriters for songwriters. They can also be accompanied by charitable foundations, which allow young communities of songwriters to develop.

Collection agencies are the foundation of the music industry as we know it today. The first agencies came into being in the early part of the twentieth century. That happened because of the analogue-technology revolution that took place at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. It was similar to the digital-technology revolution that is taking place now. Before 1914, all music was either commissioned or written down, which is why the term “publishing” is used in the music industry. The new technologies were the phonograph, the gramophone and, later on in the twentieth century, broadcast radio, cinema and television. That meant that copyright laws had to be amended, which was done at the Berne copyright convention in 1921. As a direct result of that new technology, the first collection agencies were set up by the writers and for the writers to collect their money resulting from those new inventions. If it were not for collection agencies, the global music industry would not exist.

I will tell the story of why and how the Irish Music Rights Organisation was set up. The Performing Right Society (PRS) was collecting only 10% of the royalties that were due to its members. In 1985, the writers, composers and arrangers of traditional music got together to take control of their own licensing. Today, the Northern Ireland Music Rights Society is in the same position as the Irish Music Rights Organisation was in 1985, so we are 23 years behind.

The Performing Right Society was providing no resources for its members in Ireland. It had collected in the Republic of Ireland since 1934 and, as it was an organisation that was set up by songwriters for songwriters, the profits were supposed to go back to the writers. However, although the Performing Rights Society was collecting between £200 million and £300 million in the UK, Ireland was left on the periphery of its agenda. There was no real regard for the issues of writers in Ireland, so they got together and started their own agency.

In addition, Irish songwriters had no choice other than to appoint a foreign collection agency as one did not exist in the Republic of Ireland. That meant that the Irish writers had to join Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) in America, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), French or Australian agencies, or the PRS in London. That led to an identity crisis.

There no music industry in Northern Ireland because there is no local body to control music licensing. As I explained, music licensing is the foundation stone of the music industry. A songwriter writes a song, which he or she then gives to a publisher, who markets and exploits the song, and a collection agency collects royalties for that. The entire music industry develops from, and depends on, that activity.

Worldwide, publishers market and exploit songs, and there are 10 big publishers, including Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Publishing. Such companies control current and back catalogues, covering, for example, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s music that might be used in advertising and films or revived by new artists such as Robbie Williams.

The intellectual copyright with which the music industry deals is worth billions of pounds, and that is all external to Northern Ireland, and before 1995 external to the Republic. The point I am making is that in this territory we have the songwriters but no industry.

There is no financial or legal music-industry presence here. Worldwide, music is the legal profession’s principal activity; yet no legal practice in Northern Ireland deals with music. In the Republic of Ireland, several legal and accountancy firms specialise in music, but, because there is no integrated music industry in Northern Ireland, there is no need for any such firms here.

In Northern Ireland — and the whole of Ireland — music is deeply imbedded in our culture and is important to our identity. In Ireland, there is a musical tradition that does not exist to the same extent in other territories. Furthermore, we have more songwriters per head of population than anywhere else in the world.

In a magazine, 10 or 12 years ago, I read that Ireland — as regards music produced by historical and contemporary songwriters and artists — is the fourth largest music provider in the world. However, that is not a financial statistic. The world’s biggest exporter of music is the United States. Armaments are its primary export, followed by cigarettes, and music is third. Music revenues are a huge element of the world’s economy.

Jimmy Kennedy, Brian Kennedy, Enya, Riverdance, U2, Van Morrison and Snow Patrol are all from Ireland. In the mid-twentieth century, Jimmy Kennedy was the most significant songwriter from this side of the Atlantic, and his name is in the same category as people such as Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. He is much celebrated in England. In fact, in addition to the Ivor Novello awards, the Performing Right Society (PRS) sponsors the Jimmy Kennedy award, because, in that era, no one else on this side of the Atlantic was of that calibre. Jimmy Kennedy was from County Tyrone. Consider also what Riverdance has done for all things culturally Irish, and Van Morrison is one of the most significant contemporary artists.

Our proposal is important because economies only thrive through cultural development. The Irish Music Rights Organisation has offered to collect PRS royalties in Northern Ireland, and, as recently as January 2008, there were discussions between senior representatives of IMRO and PRS. Those meetings were merely investigative, and, because IMRO specialises in collecting money in smaller territories, it may offer to collect PRS royalties in Northern Ireland.

If we do not take action here, a music industry will not develop in Northern Ireland. It may be that IMRO collecting money here would be better than the current situation. However, Brian and I — as writers and owners of our own copyright — would prefer to do it ourselves. In addition to collecting the money and distributing it back to the local writers here, we could network with other agencies around the world — the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the relevant organisation in Australia, and so on.

There are a number of measures that the Assembly can take to facilitate Northern Ireland assuming control of its own music licensing. The Minister and the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure can take ownership of the proposal and instruct the Department to facilitate the plan. The Department should organise a forum committee of songwriters in Northern Ireland. The First Minister and the deputy First Minister could meet the general secretary of the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Committees (GESAC) in Switzerland to discuss the writers’ mandate. The Minister could also meet the board of the Performing Rights Society to discuss separation.

Local songwriters, composers and publishers should take control of music licensing in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Music Rights Society is made up of writers and publishers, and would be able to collect royalties for its members here.

There are several positive aspects of having a local collection agency: the encouragement of culture and identity; the promotion of local talent; the distribution of profit back to the community that generated that profit; the development of the creative industries; the creation of employment; the generation of expertise in a specialised area involving international law and complex finances; and the retention of talent that is currently exported.

Since 1934, Northern Ireland has had no collection agency or grouping of songwriters owning their own copyright — we suffer from a lack of identity. For example, many Americans think that Van Morrison is the brother of Jim Morrison, from The Doors.

Mr Speers:
Mr Hugh Duffy has direct experience of the establishment of the Irish Music Rights Organisation. He will make a couple of short observations that may be of assistance to the Committee.

Mr Duffy ( Northern Ireland Music Rights Society):
I was chief executive of the Irish Music Rights Organisation when I first met Richard Abbott in 1998. He and a number of other songwriters were talking about establishing their own society in the North. I retired in 2000, aged 65, but have continued to help Richard in a private capacity. When Richard and the others were discussing the possibility of having their own society, I felt that they should wait until there was a devolved Government before pursuing the matter.

It is important that the protection of music rights in the North of Ireland is situated in the North of Ireland, rather than being a periphery to the Performing Rights Society in London, or an add-on to the Irish Music Rights Organisation in Dublin.

There must be a local network, and emerging young writers should have a body that they can identify with, and register their works with, so that those works are protected from day one. Major songwriters around the world have horror stories of how they were ripped off for 10 years during their early development.

The society to be established in the North should collect royalties and, even more importantly, ensure that those royalties are properly distributed to songwriters. Many big societies, including the PRS, take a sample of a couple of days’ radio programmes to determine how royalties should be distributed. Trinity College Dublin conducted a survey for us that showed that 60% of songwriters would not feature in a sample of four days’ radio programme per month, and, therefore would get no royalties. That demonstrates the importance of the collection and distribution of royalties being organised from the North of Ireland.

The process will take a number of years. We started negotiations with the Performing Rights Society in 1989 and did not achieve independence until 1995. The first stage is to convince the Performing Rights Society to set up a group of local songwriters in the North of Ireland, and to start collecting royalties.

We collected about £2 million pounds a year in Southern Ireland during the tenure of the Performing Rights Society. In the same market that figure rose to £20 million annually, once people who should have been paying music royalties were identified. That will always happen when collectors are perceived as outsiders who visit briefly, then go away. The development was important because, for the first time, it led to songwriters in Ireland getting paid for their work being played in public.

Technology makes things easier. Where once radio programmes had to hand-log every song played, the job is now done by computers, making the process very easy.

I support the proposal because it is in the interests of songwriters in the North of Ireland and its economy, through education on intellectual property rights. Intellectual property is our future. There may be a case for following the lead of Spain, where the country’s composite music collection society represents and protects the intellectual property rights of writers, artists, photographers and designers. That is something that could be looked at in the future, particularly in a small territory.

Mr Abbott:
Brian Kennedy has kindly agreed to join us and help close the presentation by sharing his experiences and views.

Mr B Kennedy ( Northern Ireland Music Rights Society):
I thank the Committee for its time. The importance of the rights’ issue struck me when I was first contacted, and I thought it was a wonderful idea. It is particularly appropriate in this Building because, when we arrived, I saw children queuing up to get in and thought to myself — they are the future.

Among the things we want to give the children of Northern Ireland is a bill of rights for their musical future. The group I saw will include the new Van Morrison, new Snow Patrol, new me — God help them, whoever they are. [Laughter.]

I remember one of the last times I was here — I was singing at George Best’s funeral. The whole world was watching us. Northern Ireland has a completely different identity these days, and it is only for the good. That is the thing that really moves me about being here. Nowadays when Northern Ireland is mentioned, or we see it in the news, it is for good reasons. Another good reason could be this fantastic proposal.

I am a working musician. Indeed, I was working last night, and I am working again tonight, so I would love to be properly paid by the Northern Ireland division of an organisation that is looking after artists’ rights. I stand fully behind the proposal and thank the Committee for its time.

The Chairperson:
Thank you for your presentation.

Mr P Ramsey:
Members know of the 10-year campaign that Richard Abbott has helped lead with great integrity and passion and on which I compliment him.

Mr Abbott:
Thank you, Pat.

Mr P Ramsey:
I was at a meeting in Derry, which was attended by at least 30 people, including young songwriters from across the region, who want to write more songs and would be keen to see a music industry set up here that would help to increase their commitment and capacity to do so and which would educate them about the music business.

Given the level of inactivity that there has been under direct rule, it is important that this Committee shows leadership and confidence to move the process on. It is clear from the presentation that there are a number of key areas that we need to be delivering on. First, given the process of procurement in Government, there is obviously a need for a business case and feasibility study to be put together.

I propose that the Committee writes to the Minister indicating its support for the setting up of a co-operative for the collection of royalties in Northern Ireland, and ask him to instruct the Department, either through the Arts Council or some other body, to proceed immediately with the business case and feasibility study.

It is clear and obvious that the mandate is there. I would presume that Brian Kennedy, for example, is here to represent all the songwriters of Northern Ireland, because I have no indication of any resistance, or desire from people to remain with IMRO or PRS. It is important that all of the items proposed in the presentation are dealt with as part of a process, and that we inform OFMDFM of our intention to support the setting up of an internal organisation for music licensing. We need to inform the First Minister and deputy First Minister of that. The fact that we know the Minister will be coming to the Committee on 29 April will perhaps give some comfort and confidence to the witnesses here today.

Earlier I was recalling with Francie Brolly that Richard Abbott attended a briefing session some years ago, at which the then permanent secretary resisted any attempt to have a discussion on the matter. Now is the opportunity for this Committee, and particularly our Chairperson, to lead on the issue. I also suggest, in order to ensure that we get commitment, that the issue is tabled for the meeting on 29 April, because we do not want the proposal lying around the Department, or just lying on someone’s desk.

The Chairperson:
It is noted, Pat, that you are a strong supporter of the proposal.

Mr P Ramsey:
I am, because I see the output. If we are talking about around £10 million of royalties in Northern Ireland, we should be serious about it. I spoke previously about what has been done in the creative industry sector in Galway. If we had a wee bit of that money being returned — I am making up for lost time.

The Chairperson:
Ok Pat, if you would get to your question.

Mr P Ramsey:
All elements of the presentation are important. Many groups make presentations to this Committee, but this is one of the finest I have seen, and the output is clear and obvious. Brian Kennedy is right, future generations must be given the confidence to remain in our communities here, rather than being forced to move away.

The Chairperson:
Pat, you probably have no questions because you are a firm supporter of the project, and you are putting that on the record. I will move now to the Deputy Chairman, David McNarry.

Mr McNarry:
Are you a songwriter, Pat? — [Laughter].

First, Northern Ireland is a great wee country: there is no doubt about that. Not long ago a group of local actors from Northern Ireland came to the Committee — contemporaries of yours I suppose — making very much the same plea for recognition. What I am hearing today is something that I have not heard before. I was mighty impressed by the actors, and I am equally impressed by your presentation. That is because I believe in Northern Ireland PLC.

You are asking for assistance in developing where you want to go, so I have a number of questions. What discussions have you had recently with DCAL and OFMDFM officials regarding your presentation? Are there any major legal complications involved in what is really an artistic unilateral declaration of independence that you have presented here? Are there revenue consequences to the local collection and distribution of royalties?

Can you estimate the gain that would benefit our songwriters if that were in place now? Is there a loss from them, currently, without the establishment of a Northern Ireland royalties collection base?

Finally, I picked up that you talked about a “ Northern Ireland division”. I do not like those words —“ Northern Ireland” and “division” — going together, although I know that was not what you meant. Are you talking about Northern Ireland separating from within the island of Ireland or is there a Great Britain and Northern Ireland context to this? In my acute Britishness, it seems to me that you are linked into a foreign country, the Irish Republic, but I assume that as songwriters you would share artistic values with songwriters in Great Britain who have the same organisation. Do you want to form a Northern Ireland division, and will it be autonomous? Is it that you will be separating something from an all-Ireland scenario, or joining into a UK-wide one?

Mr Abbott:
I will answer that last question and perhaps Mr Brian Speers will address the other question. As I explained at the start, the issue of separation or who we are going in with is very complex. In simple terms, all of the songwriters in Northern Ireland can chose who collects their royalties for them. Brian and I could as individuals collect our own royalties. If Brian has a record played on the BBC, under the copyright law, he could send it an invoice for that. It is our right to collect our royalties as individuals, but it would be hugely cumbersome. What writers do is to band together and set up a society to collect royalties on their behalf. That is how it started and that is all we are trying to do; we are trying to take advantage of our rights by taking control of our own music licensing and by setting up the Northern Ireland Music Rights Society.

Mr McNarry:
I fully understand that, but what I am really trying to get at is any revenue consequences that there may be. You very kindly did a conversion from euros to sterling and in Northern Ireland royalty collections would be in sterling. Are there complications with any revenue collection that would be Northern Ireland-based?

Mr Abbott:
No.

Mr McNarry:
So you will not be an offshoot of something else, and you are not going to go to some far-off island and set up?

Mr Speers:
There was a sequence of appropriate and good questions. To rattle through the answers to those, Mr McNarry, there have been various attempts made to engage with Government in the last number of years, and this is the best engagement that there has been, to date. This Committee and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure are the bodies that should be dealing with this matter. There has not yet been communication with the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, but that is perhaps something that the Committee can encourage and facilitate.

With regard to any major legal complications, as Richard has said and as Hugh will no doubt confirm, in essence the rights are owned by the writers, who have limited opportunities for the collection of royalties due to them. Those opportunities are at the moment confined to either joining the Irish Music Rights Organisation, of which Hugh was chief executive, or the Performing Rights Society and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society Alliance, based in London.

As Hugh has said, where there is a locally orientated collecting agency more collections are made, there is more rigour in the process of identifying when royalties are due, and there is more interest and animation from the local songwriters’ base. It is intended that this be a Northern Ireland collective of songwriters establishing their own administrative and collecting-agency rights.

Regarding the revenue consequences, some songwriters may well move away from both PRS and IMRO to the Northern Ireland society, which might cause little ripples within those two organisations. Songwriters will judge for themselves the benefits of that; whether their royalty entitlements are best collected by an organisation in which they play a part — a bigger fish in a smaller pool — or whether their rights are best reflected under the current arrangements. That is for them to decide.

There has been no forensic analysis on the estimate of gain; there have been no resources available to carry out the type of business case that Mr Ramsey suggested. If there were ways of facilitating such a professionalising approach that would only strengthen the argument that it is the right time to establish a Northern Ireland collecting agency. I hope that addresses and clarifies most of your questions in that sequence.

Mr McNarry:
That was extremely clear, and I am very grateful to you. I want to add that I support Pat in wishing you all the best in seeing that through. I look forward to seeing what we can do. Obviously, there are many more questions. However, before we move on, I want to commend a business case of some nature. I am not suggesting that the society spend a lot of money, but as it is more than likely that it will gain a fair amount of money, it may be a wise investment. The society will be asked for a business case anyway, and it will also be of use to the Committee.

Mr Shannon:
I congratulate the gentlemen on their presentation. NIMRS will find many friends in the Committee.

NIMRS outlined what it wants to do for us and what it would like the Committee and the Minister to do for the society. However, is the approach a “joint attack” in relation to the Minister and his Department, and the society, legally, or is it one rather than the other? Will any moneys that the proposed agency receives from royalties be invested to encourage other young songwriters or potential songwriters and singers? If, as we hope, a collection agency were to be established, can moneys that have been stored away be accessed retrospectively? Lastly, what are those who hold the royalties that belong to the songwriters of Northern Ireland doing with the money?

Mr Brolly:
I should declare an interest as a member of the PRS; I get regular statements of my earnings, which can range from 4p to £25. [Laughter.] I am sure that Brian Kennedy is jealous.

Mr Abbott:
Do you want us to publish your stuff? If Mr Brolly published his songs with us he may get a bit more money.

Mr Brolly:
I know that my songs are being played all over the world — [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:
Are you not the most famous singer in Dungiven? [Laughter.]

Mr Brolly:
I have been in touch with Richard for a long time now and therefore I am even more aware of the importance of this. The big element is monitoring the playing of and use of music. Based in Dublin, although they may look at the likes of Brian Kennedy, they are not going to see that there are other talented songwriters. We must recognise that music is a huge industry — just look at the Beatles, and Brian Kennedy.

The Chairperson:
Were the Beatles before your time, Francie?

Mr Brolly:
My father told me about them.

Mr McNarry:
Mr Brolly knew more about Jimmy Kennedy, who was mentioned earlier.

Mr Brolly:
Fundamentally, we should support this; there should be a collection agency in Belfast.

Mr P Ramsey:
What about a collection agency in Derry?

Mr Brolly:
Or in Omagh?

The Chairperson:
Carrickmore.

Mr Brolly:
We should all realise the importance of the work that Richard has done. He will succeed, because he has to succeed, and we have to ensure that he succeeds. If ever a medal is struck for someone demonstrating “stickability”, it should be awarded to Richard Abbott.

The Chairperson:
An expression of support has been made. There are questions that have been posed by Jim and which are, as yet, unanswered.

Mr Speers:
I will try to answer those questions. We need guidance and assistance as to the best strategy for an approach to the Minister. The Committee seems to be finding some agreement as to what is the best approach to influence those who still need to be influenced.

Mr Shannon:
Are there any legal implications for the Committee, or the Minister?

Mr Speers:
I am unaware of any legal implications. Hugh might like to comment on the experience of the Republic on the issue of money being returned to performers and the encouragement of young talent.

Mr Duffy:
The PRS under-licensed everything when it was collecting moneys in Ireland. It did not bother much and came over only now and again. The result was that there was about only £2 million being collected in Southern Ireland from all public houses, hotels and suchlike. Within about four years of our independence from the PRS, we were collecting £20 million.

There is an important point in the question of distribution: when we got our independence, we started monitoring the music that was being played in pubs and other places. The money that the PRS collected in pubs in Southern Ireland, for example, was distributed on the basis of the top ten or top 20 chart songs in the UK. However, chart songs in the UK had absolutely nothing to do with the music that was being played in pubs in the west and south-west of Ireland. The same thing is happening with the money that is being collected here. I realise that there is a lot of traditional music played in pubs and clubs in Northern Ireland; and, although it is traditional music, the arrangers are entitled to the copyright. The money that is being collected in pubs and clubs is being distributed over the top 20 chart songs in the UK, which is totally ridiculous.

The same thing happens with the BBC. I am quite sure that BBC radio in the North of Ireland plays a lot of traditional music. However, those songs are not registered as being traditional arrangements, and that pool of money is divided among those people who are registered, which again brings us back to the top 20. That is akin to pillaging.

We took a case to the World Trade Organization against the American Government because they were at the same game in America. We won the case on the basis that the American Government were taking shortcuts and not complying with the Berne Convention. If you were to take a sample of the music that is played on, for example, Radio Foyle on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and divide out a year’s royalty collections on the basis of that sample, it is full of inequity.

Mr B Kennedy:
Absolutely; I could not agree more.

Mr Speers:
If I may ask Hugh to address the issue of the retrospective collection of royalties.

Mr Duffy:
It is impossible to collect royalties retrospectively. In a business case, someone has to say that there are, for example, 700 pubs and 35 cinemas in the North of Ireland, to which a tariff has to be applied. In that way, it is possible to work out to the penny how much should be collected. The Performing Rights Society would say that it is too expensive to collect that money. We have argued that if it takes 19/11d to collect a £1, you are better off than if it were not collected. However, because the PRS works on the sample business, and because it is more interested in major performers such as Elton John, it wants to keep the costs down. Nevertheless, keeping the costs down produces a system that is full of inequity to the middle and bottom performers.

Brian made a good point: it is important to have a collection co-operative here for young people who start writing. Kids of 14 and 15 years of age are writing songs now that are not registered, and, further down the road, someone will exploit them. It is important to have the intellectual property of creators protected from day one. I was just 10 years with IMRO before I retired, and I have seen the difference that doing our own thing has made.

Mr Shannon:
The young singers and the writers have been doing all the work for years, and the top 20 have been getting the money. Is that correct?

Mr Duffy:
Yes, that is right, and the situation is even worse in the United States of America. People get nothing unless they are one of the guys at the very top.

Mr Shannon:
Thank you; that was very helpful.

Lord Browne:
I found the presentation very helpful in giving me a better understanding of the extremely complex matter of collecting royalties. From your report, I see that in 2006 the MCPS/PRS Alliance retained some £49·5 million in licensing and administration costs. Where, and to whom, does that money go? What percentage of the total of the £291 million remaining is attributable to Northern Ireland?

The MCPS/PRS has around 100 staff. If the same thing were to happen in Northern Ireland — and I know that it is a non-profit-making organisation — what level of staffing would be required? You said that the MCPS has an agency that collects its money. Would you envisage a similar situation in Northern Ireland, and would you have to pay fees to an agency to collect money for the royalties?

Mr McCarthy:
I have learned a lot from this morning’s presentation. Correct me if I am wrong, but despite the fact that Francie Brolly is a member of the PRS, you have been not been well served by the activities of the PRS over the years. I do not know what Francie has been doing. You mentioned a figure of £2 million, which seems like nothing compared to what you ought to have had.

You said in your presentation that music is our culture — as it is: North and South, east and west of the island — and we should make every effort to capitalise on the talent of our young people. You should have no difficulty whatsoever. The economy of Northern Ireland is the Executive’s number-one priority. From what the Committee has heard this morning, if we were to go down that road a vast amount of money could be made that would contribute to the economy of Northern Ireland. I congratulate you — as Francie said — for trying to change the situation. We have a devolved Assembly, and now is the time to get what you want. I support you and wish you every success.

Mr Abbott:
Thank you very much.

Mr Speers:
We would also like answers to some of your questions. We do not want to give the impression that this is exclusively a PRS-bashing presentation. There is great respect for the work that the PRS does. However, we feel that it is not engaged sufficiently within Northern Ireland, and that if Northern Ireland songwriters formed their own collective, they would be more engaged, more energised and more successful. It would also be easier to collect if local people were collecting locally, rather than remote letters arriving into establishments from an organisation that people might resent more than a local collecting agency.

It is difficult to find the information on the percentage of the £291 million attributable to Northern Ireland. We would like to know, but I doubt if even MCPS /PRS has that information.

We envisage that there will be a small staff that will grow according to the needs, but there will be some employment for staff in the setting-up of the body and the promotion and explanation of its work — it will clarify when and to whom royalties should be paid. There will be a handful, rather than hundreds, of people employed. We have received interesting offers from the north-west to locate it at Dungiven or Carrickmore. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:
What about Eskragh, Killyleagh or Kircubbin? We are not parochial; we do not care who beats Newtownards.

Mr Speers:
The purpose is that it will be a collective of members forming an agency to collect, hold and distribute royalties. Part of that process is accountancy, transparency and efficiency, but there is also motivation about collecting in a proper manner.

Someone mentioned the encouragement of youth talent. Once the money is being collected, forums for songwriters can be created. Richard Abbott has experience in that area, and Brian’s support will attract people from the celebrity side to champion that.

Mr B Kennedy:
It has never been easier to make music. Due to the available technology, people make music in their bedrooms that is broadcastable. Children lead in that area. It is amazing that your nephews and nieces know more about technology than you do.

Mr Abbott:
That leads to a dead end if they have not been informed about their rights. I have met established traditional players in their 60s, and when asked which collection agency they have appointed, they ask what a collection agency is. That is a historical problem. As I said earlier, it is such a complex and unique issue that the traditional players find it difficult to understand or engage in.

We will also find a new community of songwriters and traditional players when we set up an office, because they will see the office, and they will respond to our marketing and public relations exercises. The musicians will want to know about the new organisation. They will be able to engage with it, whereas they cannot engage with one that is remote.

Mr Duffy:
The disengagement from the PRS is a process; it will take a number of years to complete. It is important to let the PRS know that, in this Committee’s view, it is in the cultural and business interests of the North of Ireland to have a music rights organisation here. We do not intend to declare a unilateral declaration of independence and throw them out; it is a process that will probably take five or six years. It will be gradual, and it will work. If the writers in the North of Ireland want it to happen, it will happen. It will take enthusiasm and dedication, but it will happen, and it will be in the interests of those who are writing songs now and those who are still at school.

I will leave with the Committee a copy of a 52-page case study on the development of IMRO. It shows the process and problems of the organisation and how it evolved. You can also see the benefits.

Mr McCausland:
How many songwriters and composers are there in Northern Ireland? How does a society become legally recognised and established so that artists are allowed to collect the money? How much money is collected each year in the Republic of Ireland? That amount could be scaled down to give an indication of what the potential would be here.

Mr Duffy:
The Republic of Ireland is collecting €25 million, so there is probably the potential to collect £5 million here.

Mr Abbott:
IMRO’s report and accounts for 2006 shows a collection of €33 million. At the current rate of exchange, that is £27 million. I have written a document that gives exact figures on that. I estimate that £10 million could potentially be collected in Northern Ireland right from the get-go. We do not know what the PRS is collecting; it could anything from £2 million to £7 million. We can only guess. Hugh thinks that those figures are very low.

Mr Duffy:
We carried out an exercise in Scotland, which is a big country, and I know that in 2000 only £6 million was collected. Once the periphery is reached, interest is lost. It is a bit like asking how important the Aran Islands are to the Irish economy. They are not important; they are there, but unless people go there they will only pay lip service.

Mr Speers:
I will try to provide specific answers to Mr McCausland’s questions. One can only estimate the numbers of songwriters that we have. Thirty people were assembled in Derry pretty easily, and that was just in the confines of —

Mr Duffy:
Two thousand songwriters were registered with IMRO.

Mr Abbott:
There are 4,000 now.

Mr Duffy:
There are probably about 1,000 songwriters in the North.

The Chairperson:
Can we move to a conclusion?

Mr McCausland:
There is the point about the legal position.

Mr Speers:
From a legal point of view, it must be remembered that the songwriters own their copyright. It is theirs to assign to a collecting agency or not to assign, and they can choose to assign to the proposed Northern Ireland society. At present, people are choosing to assign either to the PRS or to IMRO. If a local society were to be established, songwriters could assign their historic catalogue to it, leave it with the existing collecting agency and assign their new works, or they could decide to take their whole catalogue to the new agency.

Mr McCausland:
What happens if a club refuses to pay you for playing your music on its premises and tells you to get lost?

Mr Speers:
There is an absolute legal entitlement to ask for payment. The copyright laws are very clear.

Mr Duffy:
The Northern Ireland copyright society would enter into a reciprocal arrangement with all the other copyright societies, which would collect money for the Northern Ireland songwriters in their territories, while Northern Ireland would collect money, for example, for British or American songwriters in the North of Ireland. On the basis of those arrangements and on registrations and contracts signed between the North of Ireland songwriters and the new society, royalties would have to be paid under the Copyright Act 1956 and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Back in 1995 and 1996 we had 600 cases in courts in Ireland. There were about 10 test cases.

The Chairperson:
I will now bring this section of the meeting to a close. Do members wish to make any further brief comments?

Mr Brolly:
One of the great difficulties for songwriters is where to take them when they are written. If we had an organisation here, would it have an advisory role? Would it market its services to songwriters and help them with matters such as publishing?

Mr Abbott:
IMRO employs an education officer, Keith Donald. We would hope to have someone in a similar role, but more importantly, that person would help to establish an integrated music industry. There is no commercial music publishing in Northern Ireland. When we set this organisation up, publishers will come to us and songwriters will be able to connect with them.

Mr Brolly:
That is vital.

Mr McNarry:
From what we have heard there appears to be a general consensus to move this along. To help ourselves and our guests, I would like to propose that we initiate a research paper on the value of songwriter royalties. That is a grey area that we need to know more about.

We also need to find the potential revenue earnings that would be available to local songwriters. That is another grey area.

The Chairperson:
We also need to know the wider economic benefits.

Mr McNarry:
The Committee has to be very careful because there is a professional element involved — this is about earnings. The Committee needs to be seen to be wishing songwriters well and hoping that they are properly rewarded for their work. However, that cannot be set aside when it comes to how the Committee would respond as regards helping to provide a leg-up. The potential revenue needs to be known.

Factual research needs to be carried out to determine how many people would join the NIMRS. I am taking a broad-sweep approach to this matter, because what you are proposing to create in Northern Ireland is an industry — a song-writing industry. Therefore, that would be no different to any other industry that I would support in Northern Ireland, so the Committee’s support has to be on that basis.

Mr P Ramsey:
That is the original point that I made. An independent business case is needed, and that is why the Department is in a much stronger position to do that in conjunction with all of those present today and this Committee.

The Chairperson:
Members are agreed on David’s proposal, and we can follow-up on individual engagements with the group. As a Committee, we can try and add value to this project as it develops.

I apologise to the representatives of the Association of Drama Festivals, but, hopefully, they will have found that session interesting, despite the fact that it ran over time. I would like to ask Brian Kennedy, if he were to sing a few lines today, would he send his invoice to Hansard or to the Assembly? [Laughter.]

Mr B Kennedy:
You tell me — you are the Chairperson.

The Chairperson:
I thank you all for your attendance today. Brian, it is over to you if you want to sing a few lines.

Mr B Kennedy:
I will sing a little bit of a traditional Northern Irish song, called ‘The Flower of Magherally’:

One pleasant summer’s morning when all the flowers were springing-oh
Nature was adorning and the wee birds sweetly singing-oh
I met my love near Banbridge Town, my charming blue-eyed Sally-oh
She’s the queen of the County Down, the flower of Magherally-oh.

[Applause.]

The Chairperson:
Can I ask you to leave now, please? [Laughter.]

Find Your MLA

tools-map.png

Locate your local MLA

Find MLA

News and Media Centre

tools-media.png

Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

tools-social.png

Keep up to date with what’s happening at the Assem

Find out more

Contact information

tools-newsletter.png

Contact us for further information about our work.

Contact us