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Robert Fripp goes public about dispute with David Bowie estate and PPL

Robert Fripp goes public about dispute with David Bowie estate and PPL

Musician Robert Fripp, best known as founder and longest serving member of King Crimson, has taken to Facebook to discuss an ongoing dispute with the David Bowie estate and collecting society PPL about how his contributions to Bowie's 'Heroes' and 'Scary Monsters' albums have been classified. Which may seem like mere semantics, but such classifications impact on how PPL royalties get shared out.

PPL licenses the use of recorded music on behalf of the record industry in scenarios like radio and when tracks are played in pubs, clubs, bars and cafes.

In copyright terms, this is when the so called performing or neighbouring rights of the sound recording copyright are being exploited. Because of a thing called performer rights, in these scenarios, any performers who appear on any one record have a statutory right to share in the money generated, even if and especially when they are not the copyright owner.

So when PPL collects royalties, it pays half of the money out to the copyright owner (often a record label) and half to the performers who appear on the record. All performers who appear on a track (pretty much) then share in that latter payment, including the main artist whose name appears on the record – what the music industry traditionally called the 'featured artist' – and any backing singers and session musicians.

Quite how that money gets shared out between the performers is set out in PPL's own rules. There are some complexities, but generally more is allocated to the featured artists than the session musicians. So therefore it's generally better to be listed as a featured artist than a non-featured artist in terms of how PPL monies get distributed.

Which brings us to the dispute involving Fripp. He says that he is classified as a session musician on the Bowie tracks on which he played guitar, even though it's generally agreed that his contribution to those records was more significant than what you would usually expect from a session player. So much so, were those records released today there's a high chance they'd be billed as David Bowie featuring Robert Fripp, which would be sufficient to get Fripp featured player status. But such billing was not so common way back when.

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Posted on: 26/09/2019Categories: News from CMU Online

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