U2 threaten legal action on concert rights: Rock band wants to collect own live royalties

THE ROCK band U2 may sue the Performing Rights Society after it failed to concede to an ultimatum this week to allow the group to collect their own live performance royalties. Their action is being supported by other major rock acts, including Simply Red and Dire Straits.

Paul McGuinness, U2's manager, believes the society holds on to money collected on behalf of bands for too long and deducts too much for administering the royalty payments.

Ed Bicknell, manager of Dire Straits, said the society's administration costs were far too high and that 'only a nuclear physicist could understand most statements from PRS'.

U2 also say it is unfair that the group's percentage of a concert ticket goes directly to the society from the concert promoter. The band is preparing to argue, in court if necessary, that it could administer its own concert performance rights.

A letter from U2's lawyers last week said that the society's insistence on keeping the group's live performance rights contravenes the Treaty of Rome, is an abuse of the society's dominant position and is in restraint of trade under UK law. It says that if U2 are not reassigned their performance rights they will claim 'substantial damages'.

Every time a song is performed - in concerts, on radio and television, in pubs or shops - a fee is paid to the society and then redistributed, minus administration costs of 19 per cent, to the artist. The fee is collected from concert promoters, even if a band are performing self-penned material at their own concert.

The society collected more than pounds 145m in 1992, money redistributed by its 790 staff to 26,000 members in Britain, according to the popularity of their compositions.

U2, arguably the world's most successful band, were the top grossing concert act in the US last year, taking dollars 67m from the Zoo TV tour. That success puts them in a position to risk an expensive court action which many in the industry believe could benefit all society members.

Terri Anderson, public affairs controller for the society, said it was keen not to get involved in litigation with U2 as the costs incurred would be borne by the society's members. While the society can, constitutionally, allow members to administer some of their rights themselves, it asks to handle their entire repertoire to strengthen its negotiating arm.